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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Thanksgiving Play

We start with this pile of jagged facts and misguided governmental policies and historical tereotypes about race then turn all that into something beautiful and dramatic and educational for the kids. — Jaxton
thanksgiving (L-R) Jeff Marlow, Noah Bean, Alexandra Henrikson, and Samantha Sloyan
Such is the supposition, at any rate, behind Larissa FastHorse's The Thanksgiving Play, a play about elementary school play making, certainly, but also a rumination on the minefields of political correctness and one poor troupe's ability to stomp on and detonate every last explosive therein. Our players are a risk-embracing high school drama teacher, her street performer boyfriend, a dimwitted professional actress and an elementary school history teacher who pines to be a playwright. Their charge: craft a 45-minute elementary school play around the origins of Thanksgiving that enlightens and delights while offending no one. And jolly good luck with that.

The production at the Geffen Playhouse is directed by Michael John Garces, who has worked with FastHorse previously on projects with the Cornerstone Theatre Company where Garces is the artistic director. Cornerstone plays traditionally are crafted around discussion, ideas and community exploration. By very sharp contrast, The Thanksgiving Play is a straight-ahead satire that derives much of its humor from outright mayhem. Garces' actors have comic chops (especially Alexandra Henrikson as the fuzz-brained thespian, Alicia); they can do zany and are not afraid to get down and dirty with the broadness. But the play is largely a one-joke affair that runs out of steam before its players do.

In between the action of the play, the four performers act out interludes, skits in which they sing about

"The Nine Days of Thanksgiving", "Four Little Turkeys" and other nuggets of culturally insensitivity. These numbers are, per the playwright's notes "sadly inspired by the Internet, mostly current teachers' Pinterest boards.” Meaning that, no, you really can't make some of this stuff up.

Samantha Sloyan and Noah Bean are positively overflowing with righteousness as director Logan and her lead (but unpaid) actor/boyfriend, Jaxton Smithton. In addition to being a proud educator, Logan's supposed to be a militant vegan, a humanist and an artiste who can secure grants up the wazoo and still risk being booted out of her job with every outre project she stages. Costume designer Garry Lennon dresses her in the kind of flowing garments that make? her look like she has barely survived a paintball war. With no Native Americans on hand, Sloyan's Logan envisions herself as the endeavor's moral compass. In this belief, she is, of course, quite mistaken.

Jeff Marlow shines as Caden, the nerdy and starry-eyed history teacher who arrives at the rehearsal with a script and whole bunch of (unstageable) facts about early Thanksgiving celebrations. Marlow's interplay with Henrikson, who can't really recognize his tweedy charms, is priceless. So, for that matter is Henrikson. Alicia is hired because Logan mistakenly thinks she has Native American roots. Nope. She's just an actress whose references start and end with Disney animated films, but who can nonetheless teach a brainy lady like Logan to flip her hair and stare vacantly at the ceiling.

There are a multitude of laughs within The Thanksgiving Play, both at the foibles of the educational system and the vagaries of political correctness. Theater lovers should also get some yuks out of the stage-related jokes. When Caden gushes to Logan that her production of The Iceman Cometh "was made so much more relevant with fifteen year olds" several of us in the audience may know somebody who would attempt such a project. In addition to the "I'm feeling” section of the chalkboard and the diversity messages, scenic designer Sara Ryung Clement has decked out Logan's room with posters of Titus Andronicus and 4.48 Psychosis &emdash; the kinds of plays you would probably never see staged anywhere except from Logan &emdash; alongside more standard stuff like Grease and The Crucible. Nice touches all around.

To read Curtainup's review of the New York production go here .

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Written by Larissa FastHorse
Directed by Michael John Garces
Cast: Noah Bean, Alexandra Henrikson, Jeff Marlow and Samantha Sloyan
Scenic Design: Sara Ryung Clement
Costume Design: Garry Lennon
Lighting Design: Tom Ontiveros
Sound Designers: Cricket S. Myers
Production Stage Manager: Samantha Cotton
Plays through December 1, 2019 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454,
Running time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson

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