Sicangu Lakota playwright Larissa Fasthorse, after being told repeatedly that her plays featuring Native American characters were uncastable, decided to take matters into her own hands and write a play about Native American issues…featuring four white characters.
There’s the overly earnest high school drama teacher Logan (Jennifer Bareilles), her street yogi/actor boyfriend Jaxton (Greg Keller), the awkward academic Caden (Jeffrey Bean), and the guileless and beautiful LA actress Alicia (Margo Seibert). Logan, dead set on pushing the envelope and creating a “culturally sensitive” Thanksgiving play for her school, uses Native American Heritage grant money to hire Alicia, only to realize too late that Alicia’s headshot (in Native guise) was merely a headshot capturing her “super flexible” ethnically ambiguous look, and Alicia was white. Logan is left with the task of creating her woke play without any actual Native American input.
And this play is very much about performative woke-ness. Logan and Jaxton, careful to a fault, spend the better part of the rehearsal second-guessing themselves and tiptoeing around potentially faulty approaches to a subject they don’t feel ethnically qualified to address, with no help from Caden’s encyclopedic knowledge of the dire history of Thanksgiving.
To that extent, the play is comically self-referential and self-effacing from the start, from the mishandling of the Thanksgiving narrative and the erasure/perversion of Native American history to the excruciating sterility of the wokeness. Fasthorse is searingly funny, and her dialogue, in the hands of four exceptionally talented and cohesive farceurs, lands like thunder. The play is pure in execution, and paces well from start to finish.
But in its self-referential nature also lies the problem: What is the play about? It asks questions, pokes fun, but is it fair to expect an answer? It’s described as a biting comedy, but if you ask me, only inasmuch as it is taking a bite out of itself, and then pondering the nature of its now-missing mass. There are interludes between scenes wherein characters perform real American classroom Thanksgiving skits—obviously in ridicule, giving their often offensive nature—which are funny, but only further muddle the tone. The ending itself is that, amidst a chaotic climax, a near apoplectic Logan has a new, brilliant idea: That an “equitable emptiness” serve as their play. Perfectly harmless, perfectly nothing, offending no one.
I found it a brilliant ending given the narrative and structure, and it’s as funny as anything. But I looked for some closure regarding the many issues and themes I had seen in the play, and found the ending to mirror the play’s aftertaste.
Still, that’s AFTER not having been able to catch my breath throughout its runtime due to incessant laughter.