'The Thanksgiving Play' by Larissa FastHorse is a harsh, brilliant mirror
Updated: Jan 16
The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse, currently playing at Dallas’ Undermain Theatre, is funny, relatable, and a little bit exhausting. I intend for the description “exhausting” to be a compliment. The play tackles the contemporary desire to get everything right: to offend no one, to include everyone, and to be seen doing so. In the play, FastHorse seems to be making the point (at least partly) that getting to choose HOW you represent something is in itself a privilege. In today’s political climate, we tire ourselves with circular arguments about who and what is appropriate – which is the exhausting part. Luckily, the production of the play, directed by Undermain Theatre Producing Artistic Director Bruce DuBose, tackles the satire with levity and grace.
Entering the space, I was transported back to my own school days. Robert Winn’s set design feels and looks just like an elementary classroom. The theater space at Undermain is challenging with obtrusive columns and a low ceiling, but Winn’s design transforms the basement into a traditional grade school proscenium with ease. If you grew up in an American classroom, you'll find the set design familiar and visceral.
FastHorse has created a woke liberal “type” for each character in the play. As Logan, the theatre teacher in charge of the school play, actress Jenny Ledel is just the right balance of sincere and neurotic. Logan’s desire to do the right thing is a little taxing, but her efforts are relatable and endearing. When paired with her partner, Jaxton, played by Garrett Storms, the quintessential white millennial stereotype is introduced and FastHorse has ticked all the boxes: gender equality, anonymity within a relationship, and radical inclusion. Ledel and Storms offer enlivened characters that are hilarious and annoying in the best possible way. Costume Designer Amanda Capshaw expertly captured Jaxton’s look. You’ll recognize him as every "enlightened male" you’ve met at the local hipster coffee shop or yoga studio.
Ben Bryant provides a sophisticated layer of humor with his performance as Caden, the history-obsessed writer. Caden is the socially awkward friend you can’t help but love thanks to Bryant’s witty delivery. I especially enjoyed Bryant’s commitment to Caden’s quiet lust.
The most surprising character for me was Alicia, played by Kelsey Milborn. As a wanna-be star, Alicia will make you laugh at her apparent stupidity. But I think she might actually be the smartest person in the room. Unencumbered by the need to be politically correct, the character of Alicia offers a refreshing simplicity – she isn’t as shallow as she seems and her advice to over-achieving and anxious Logan is consistently spot on. Milborn brings charisma and humanity to the story with bright comic delivery. Through Alicia’s practical wisdom, FastHorse drives home her point that our efforts, however well-meaning, are often misguided and overdone.
Another aspect of the play that lingered for me were the musical vignettes FastHorse has incorporated into the story. Choreographed by Undermain Artistic Associate Danielle Georgiou, these musical numbers are strange and hilarious mashups of holiday songs. The combination of dancing, singing, and culturally offensive costumes will have your roaring with laughter, but also scratching your head. Again, I think that’s FastHorse’s point. In our efforts to be radically inclusive, we’ve created a conflicted societal monster in which everyone can be properly offended.
Described as a “brilliant take on a modern dilemma,” The Thanksgiving Play highlights all the ways we try to do our best while simultaneously projecting the ways we’ve gotten it all wrong. This insightful satire is fierce in its honesty and will make you laugh with recognition and embarrassment. It’s a mirror for us all - wherever we find ourselves on the spectrum of wokeness.
The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse runs at Undermain Theatre through December 1st. Please note there is no performance on Thanksgiving. For tickets, visit undermain.org or call the Box Office at 214-747-5515.
While you’re there, be sure to take the time to visit the beautiful tribute to Founding Artistic Director Katherine Owens. Some of her artwork is on display in the lobby, and I personally found it quite inspiring.