Five Reasons Why The Thanksgiving Play isn’t a Complete Turkey
By: Iris Wiener
April 26, 2023: An over-eager drama teacher (Katie Finneran) and her boyfriend, yoga practitioner and professional actor (Scott Foley), find a Native American historian (Chris Sullivan) and an elite actress (D’Arcy Carden) to help construct a play about the true origins of Thanksgiving. Larissa FastHorse’s play is satirical to a fault, especially when its farcical nature becomes so over-the-top that it loses the bite that makes it so meaningful. Despite the one-dimensional characters and a lackluster ending, this short piece does leave one thankful for a unique piece of theatre. Here are five reasons why it’s worth a gander:
1. The play features a master class in comedic acting. Finneran (Promises, Promises) and Sullivan have already proven to be sure-fire hits when it comes to farce, but Foley has only done the drama The Violet Hour on Broadway; Carden is making her Broadway debut with Thanksgiving. (Though Carden’s comedic chops are well-known from her role on television’s The Good Place.) All four are tremendous in their self-absorbed, physical roles. Be on the lookout for an especially exquisite moment in which the actors improvise what it would have been like to eat corn.
2. Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown) takes over as director after Thanksgiving’s Off-Broadway run in 2018. She adeptly charges forward with the multitude of moments small and large that pervades a fast-moving, often hysterically chaotic show. With the Tony-winner at the helm (and in a post-Covid, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo world) the play takes on new meaning and is especially poignant in its jabs at “wokeness” and the emptiness in many people’s attempts at sensitivity and empathy. This is also evident in…
3. Fasthorse’s phenomenal one-liners and clever quips. The characters’ introductions are perfect in their profundity and lack of self-awareness. Carden’s Alicia enters dripping in L.A. wealth and style. “So sorry I’m late. My Uber app disappeared and the place where I’m staying has terrible reception and I couldn’t find the internet password so I had to take a bus. Have you ever taken a bus? It’s impossible. I mean literally, it is not possible.” Foley’s Logan, a vegan, reveals the entirety of his persona in one line. “The holiday of death…However, I want to lift up the acknowledgement that although my sensitivity about the slaughter of millions of animals, including forty-five million turkeys, is valid, I am conscious of not allowing my personal issues to take up more space in the room than the justified anger of the Native people around this idea of Thanksgiving in our post-colonial society.”
4. Four videos act as interludes throughout the play as they demonstrate the meaninglessness of Thanksgiving in America. In each short piece, children are putting on shows about the holiday. All of them (beginning with toddlers awkwardly saying their rehearsed lines, and the last starring snarky high school students) were inspired by actual teacher suggestions or documented presentations that FastHorse found in her research. By the end of the first video the tone and intent for the play have been expertly set.
5. Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design is filled with Easter eggs that immediately engage the audience. (No, Easter is not lambasted as well.) The classroom in whichThanksgiving takes place is a carnival of comments and colors, before, during and after it is literally and figuratively destroyed by this band of dim occupants. A banner excitedly reads “The human race is filled with passion!” The doorway leading into the room boasts the Hamilton mantra “The room where it happens.” The set takes on its own life in a sequence that is spoiler-worthy and one of the most entertaining scenes in the play.
The Thanksgiving Play
Helen Hayes Theater / Second Stage
240 W. 44th St., NYC
Through June 11, 2023
Photography: Joan Marcus