‘The Thanksgiving Play’ is a hilarious satire of white wokeness


Lansing Community College’s production of “The Thanksgiving Play” might not be seasonal, but it is incredibly timely. As debates rage nationwide about the silencing of various groups’ voices, the show revisits the atrocities committed against the Indigenous peoples of what became North America, who have long been silenced. If that sounds grim, rest assured that this is a comedy — and a hilarious one at that.

Logan (Ashley Weinbrecht-Morris) is a theater teacher on the brink of losing her job after staging an elementary school production of “The Iceman Cometh.” Though the parents are petitioning for her dismissal, she hopes to save her job by producing an original play about Thanksgiving that represents the Native American experience to highlight National Native American Heritage Month.

Logan forges a creative team that includes her partner, street actor and yogi Jaxton (Chris Chamberlain), and local history teacher Caden (Chris Pongracz). Using funds from a Native American culture grant, Logan hires a Native actress to provide cultural guidance. Unfortunately, Alicia (Keara Hayes), who’s not actually Native, cannot provide the counsel Logan requires.

Playwright Larissa FastHorse has crafted a fantastic satire of white wokeness that focuses on the idea that representation matters. Logan, Jaxton and Caden have good intentions that become increasingly misguided. They realize they don’t know any Native Americans and, therefore, cannot incorporate an authentic voice into the play. Rather than admit defeat, they plunge forward and think, overthink, rationalize and re-rationalize as they try to represent the Native American experience without actually representing it.

The script pokes fun at the theatrical creative process, and the troupe’s earnest belief that they can produce a quality play without the participation of a Native American is the pinnacle of woke hubris. Their final product brings a whole new meaning to the idea of “holding space” for an underrepresented group.

The cast is solid, but the standout is Hayes as the pretty but pretty vacant actress Alicia. In addition to having a beautiful singing voice, Hayes embraces the body language and expressions of a woman whose main talent she describes as “I know how to make people stare at me and not look away.”

The play incorporates interludes of real songs that demonstrate how children in the United States are indoctrinated into the mythology of Thanksgiving. The show opens with the song “The Nine Days of Thanksgiving,” a play on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” setting the tone of cringiness as the cast members list stereotypical gifts from the first Thankgiving celebration, including Native headdresses, Native tipis, bows and arrows and woven blankets.

There is a danger in a script that is such a brilliant sendup of “enlightened white allies.” FastHorse intended for the piece to highlight the necessity of Indigenous voices in telling the history of America, and to highlight the lack of representation in the arts and society in general. But the characters are ridiculous caricatures, and portraying them as this inept and self-absorbed could ostracize those who really believe themselves to be allies.

Then again, if an ally is thin-skinned enough to let a play change their attitudes, are they really a committed ally at all? Thus begins the somewhat maddening debate that makes “The Thanksgiving Play” relevant, revelatory and wickedly fun.


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