A roasting and a rousing good time at The Thanksgiving Play
Posted On March 14, 2022
Review by Shawn Maus
It’s not your grandmother’s Thanksgiving. In fact, I’m not sure whose Thanksgiving it is, but I’m thankful I was invited. Miami University’s production of Larissa Fasthorse’s The Thanksgiving Play serves up a heaping helping of satire with plenty of delicious hot-button issues to make your most “woke” family dinner arguments look like an easy dinner with the Griswolds.
High school theatre teacher Logan wins a grant to create the annual Thanksgiving play. She and her boyfriend and fellow actor Jaxton struggle to devise a politically correct Thanksgiving play for the school’s juvenile audience. They’re joined by history teacher, Caden, who dreams of being a playwright, and LA-based Native American actress Alicia – who has (spoiler alert) only played Native Americans. So it’s an all-white cast faced with the challenge of having no Native American people to guide them as they try to honor Thanksgiving and Native America Heritage Month.
Well, the Miami cast managed to captivate the audience in Studio 88 and filled it with laughter. You can’t get enough of the four actors as they navigate the cultural compass of the darker facts of factually correct Thanksgiving meticulously researched by history teacher Caden while staying grounded in keeping the peace and traditional viewpoints, minus the “slaughter” of turkeys that Logan’s school board requires.
The hilarious chemistry of the cast makes sure that you know what is and isn’t offensive. Charlotte Snee’s Logan is so grounded in worrisome, “woke” Logan that you almost cry, not only with tears of laughter but of empathy, as she navigates being the writer/director of her Thanksgiving play, waking up to her sense of self, and being too smart for her own good.
Jaxton, Logan’s boyfriend/actor, is played with perfection by Michael Liss. His surfer dude/Zen master physicality builds to a masterful crescendo when he begs for a verbal lashing over his white, male privilege, and that his claim to fame comes from his gigs on a street corner.
Braxton Whitehead’s Caden is the most grounded of the characters, but even Whitehead knows when to play over the top to help drive home the satire. While Jordan Myers brings “singularity hilarity” to her turn as a Disney princess starlet content to get by on her looks.
You just have to sit back and laugh. But is it appropriate to laugh at all of this? After all, Miami University is located within the traditional grounds of the Myaamia and Shawnee people. The harsh reality, as Caden points out, is much darker and long-lasting than Americans are willing to admit. Even the show’s costume designer, Meggan Peters in her program notes asks, “How far is too far to go when pushing the envelope of appropriation and misrepresentation?”
Playwright Fasthorse was “told again and again by the American theatre that it’s impossible to cast Native American roles. So she said, “Alright American theatre, I’m going to write you a play with four white-presenting people in one room about Native American issues, and if you can’t produce that, then the issue isn’t casting and we’ll talk about what the real issue is.”
Miami’s production has made a great effort to make sure we get the real issue. I’m thankful I was able to attend The Thanksgiving Play, March 9-13, 2022.
Shawn Maus is a screenwriter, television producer, theatre director, and old-time radio enthusiast. A number of his screenplays have been optioned and/or are under development. He is also a director for commercials, industrial videos, and a voice-over actor. He has been a reviewer for LCT since 2015.