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The Thanksgiving Play

  • Theater, Comedy
  • Hayes Theater, Midtown West
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
D'Arcy Carden, Chris Sullivan, Katie Finneran and Scott Foley in The Thanksgiving Play
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusThe Thanksgiving Play

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Larissa FastHorse's satire of whiteness moves to the Great White Way.

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

The road to stagnation is paved with performatively good intentions in The Thanksgiving Play, a send-up of woke theater makers and their discomfort with nonwhite issues. Playwright Larissa FastHorse, a member of the Sicangu Lakota nation—she is billed as the first Native American woman to have a play on Broadway—approaches self-flagellating allyship with a skeptical eye. That the show itself is being mounted, directed and acted by white people adds, perhaps, a layer of meta icing to the satirical cake.

Logan (Katie Finneran) is a stressed-out high-school drama teacher who applies her considerable sincerity toward creating a new version of the usual pilgrims-and-Indians pageant for children: Hers will be a “fully devised educational play” that respects “the justified anger of the Native people around this idea of Thanksgiving in our post-colonial society.” She is joined in this endeavor by her boyfriend, Jaxton (Scott Foley), a self-described “actor slash yoga dude”—with whom she enacts a ritualized “decoupling” before they collaborate professionally—and by Caden (Chris Sullivan), an elementary-school teacher, history nerd and amateur theater enthusiast. 

All three, alas, are white. So, to satisfy the requirements of the external funding that she has received from such sources as a “Race and Gender Equity in History Grant” and the “Go! Girls! Scholastic Leadership Mentorship,” Logan has gone online to recruit a Los Angeles actor to join the project: Alicia (D’Arcy Carden), whom she believes to be of Native descent. It soon emerges, however, that Alicia is a white brunette with multiple headshots that highlight her “super flexible” ethnic ambiguity. (“My Native American shot has me in braids and a turquoise necklace.”) Since Alicia can’t be fired, the group must rethink its enterprise in workshop exercises that repeatedly give the lie to the notion that there are no bad ideas in brainstorming. 

The Thanksgiving Play | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

Second Stage’s Broadway production of The Thanksgiving Play, tightly directed by Rachel Chavkin, represents a notable glow-up from the version that ran at Playwrights Horizons in 2018. Finneran is a hoot as the dowdy and nervous Logan, and Carden brings knowing confidence to the dim-witted but professionally savvy Alicia; Sullivan’s tryhard energy plays nicely against Foley’s smooth solicitousness. Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design, decorated with headshots and posters sets the scene well. (A banner across one wall reads, “The human race is filled with passion!”) Between scenes, videos of adorable children performing iffy Thanksgiving songs and readings—including some from actual holiday teaching plans—inspire appropriate queasiness. 

FastHorse effectively roasts her characters as turkeys, trussed by their own self-consciousness. In a swift 90 minutes, The Thanksgiving Play delivers solid laughs at the expense of targets that are admittedly, at this point, not unfamiliar: clueless liberals so busy holding space that they don’t get around to filling it with anything. What the play doesn’t do is provide much sense of a better solution to the questions that its hapless theater folks are stultified by. This absence leaves you with a question, at the end, that is double-edged: Where the representation of identity and history are concerned, is nothing good enough?

The Thanksgiving Play. Hayes Theater (Broadway). By Larissa FastHorse. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. With Katie Finneran, Scott Foley, D'Arcy Carden, Chris Sullivan. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

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The Thanksgiving Play | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


Hayes Theater
240 W 44th St
New York
Cross street:
between Broadway and Eighth Ave
Subway: A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority; N, Q, R, 42nd St S, 1, 2, 3, 7 to 42nd St–Times Sq

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