REVIEW: The Thanksgiving Play

Have ever known someone who is so sincere in their beliefs that you really want to get behind them . . . but because they are so passionate about their ideologies, you just want to smack them?  Then you’ll recognize them in the latest play in the Shelterhouse Theatre at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park.

THE THANKSGIVING PLAY, written by Larissa Fasthorse, has some outrageously funny moments.  There are also some moments that tend to go on for too long; Director Lisa Portes and her cast smartly work around those moments with big physical comedy.  In fact, the entire show is “big,” despite being in the tiny Shelterhouse theatre.  I’ve seen other productions where one or two actors play “big” in this space and it doesn’t work because it’s inconsistent with the overall tone of the show.  That’s not the case here.  Everyone is over the top and as a result, it works.

The cast has been well selected.  We first meet teaching artist, “Logan,” (Jennifer Bareilles) who is preparing to devise a theatrical piece (thanks to an abundance of small grants) with street performer “Jaxton” (Scott Parkinson).  Jaxston and Logan happen to be in a romantic relationship, which despite their best efforts begins to complicate things as their work-process becomes stressful.  Nat DeWolf plays “Caedon,” an ambitious history teacher-slash-wannabe-playwright.  He has already figured out the entire devised work before they even begin.  And finally, we meet Los-Angeles based actress, “Alicia,” who Logan has hired on the pretense that she will speak for the Native American people they desperately wish and – per funding requirements – need to represent.  Things get crazier and crazier until the play breaks down in farcical fashion.

Bareilles reprises her role in the show from its time off-Broadway. She is likable, but just annoying enough to be funny.  That’s really a tough balance.  Parkinson disappears into the character of Jaxton, with the physicality to match his yoga-dude personality.  DeWolf is appropriately enthusiastic and eventually tormented as “Caedon” out dreams his potential. And finally, Morris takes “Alicia,” who could easily be a one-dimensional character, and layers her performance with amazing comic timing.

The premise of the play itself is hilarious – the idea that socially conscious liberals attempt to devise a politically correct Thanksgiving play – and there are moments that are simply inspired . . . if you are in on the joke.  I happen to think I’m pretty “woke;” but my mother, for instance, probably wouldn’t have understood giant chunks of the material.  I wonder how the audiences in Cincinnati will take to this show and I wonder how many people just won’t come because it’s a Thanksgiving-themed show being produced in the spring.

But they totally should.  Because despite some wordiness and occasional missteps, the script does provide for some important discussion topics.  It’s a nice introduction piece to a larger conversation on history, Native Americans, social justice, and much more.

But perhaps most important, this play asks us to pause and examine the way we see ourselves – and to do so with a sense of humor.  In a world where there is so much anger and darkness, a few laughs certainly can’t hurt.

THE THANKSGIVING PLAY runs through April 21st at the Playhouse in the Park.  Click here for more information.