Turkeys aren’t the only creatures on the chopping block in The Thanksgiving Play, an irresistible satire by Larissa FastHorse currently in its final week at the Lyric Stage Company. No, there’s another pitiable creature—far more common in these deep blue parts—taking the brunt of abuse.
It isn’t a trashing, mind you, but rather a long, loving tease that progressively “woke” liberals—like the vegan, Tom’s-wearing elementary school teacher at the center of the play—must endure. On the verge of losing her job owing to some parental outrage for her production of The Iceman Cometh, Logan (played by Amanda Collins) been tasked with devising a play about Thanksgiving aimed at educating and entertaining students. The play begins on the first day of rehearsal where she is joined by her hippie-dippie street musician boyfriend, Jaxton (a very funny Jesse Hinson); a fellow teacher, Caden (Barlow Adamson), who has a penchant for both theater and history; and Alicia, a gorgeous but dimwitted actress who has been flown in from LA to bring her Native American perspective to the devising process. She auditioned via Skype and money from the Native American Heritage Month Awareness Through Art grant has allowed Logan to both hire her and fly her out for the occasion. Grace Experience plays Alicia with divine cluelessness, but more on her later.
When it turns out that Alicia might not actually be Native American, the obsessively inclusive and liberal Logan is on the verge of not only losing her job, but also her mind. (“Was Lumiere actually a candlestick?” reasons Alicia.) And over the course of this delightful and taut play—directed by the great Scott Edmiston—the four white theatermakers must figure out how they are going to put on a play about Thanksgiving without pissing anyone off. And so they start grasping at straws: Maybe redface is okay in certain metatheatrical situations? And maybe speaking for the Native American community by saying that a white person shouldn’t play a Native American role is just as egregious? They are paralyzed by their white privilege and can’t help but wonder if the solution to all this political correctness isn’t to simply do less.
If this sounds ridiculous and convoluted to you, it is. Deliciously so. FastHorse wrote this play after so many of her other plays, which included indigenous characters, were getting rejected by theaters because they felt that they couldn’t meet the casting requirements. So she set out to write a play about Native American issues without any Native Americans in it. And guess what happened? It’s one of the most-produced plays in the country according to American Theatre magazine, making FastHorse the first Native American playwright with such an achievement. Make time for the Lyric Stage’s production this weekend and you’ll find out why.
Perceptive, quirky, and laugh-out-loud funny, Edmiston’s production is just right, from the gloriously delirious performances down to the Janie Howland’s set and Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s costumes.
And then there’s Grace Experience, who with every delicious cock of her head, squint of her eyes, and pout of her lips brings Alicia to life with a perfect blend of earnestness and stupidity without ever resorting to obviousness. It’s a performance of comic gold, one that ranks among the best of the year. So, too, does this production.
THE THANKSGIVING PLAY. THROUGH 11.10 AT THE LYRIC STAGE, 140 CLARENDON ST., BOSTON. LYRICSTAGE.COM
Theater critic for TheaterMania & WBUR’s TheArtery | Theater Editor for DigBoston | film and music critic for EDGE Media | Boston Theater Critics Association.