Story: Logan is a nervous wreck. Then, again, Logan is always a nervous wreck. Nervous is what she does best.
In this particular case, she’s fretting about a play she’s producing for area grade schools about Thanksgiving as it relates to Native American Heritage Month. Logan, who is white, is hyper-politically correct, and so she’s hired a Native American to guide her four-player production along appropriately sensitive lines.
She has the ardent support of Jaxton, part-time yoga instructor and full-time cool dude whose acting brings him a bit of celebrity with local youngsters. So, he’s got that going for him, which is nice. By the way, Jaxton is white, too.
Logan also enlists the aid of Caden, a white teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School System and a stickler for historically accurate portrayals. He’s a wannabe playwright as well and has taken the liberty to bring along a hefty script for Logan to peruse.
There are grants and federal monies involved in this venture if Logan does it properly. She’s taking no chances, so she enlists the aid of a Native American actress to be the fourth member of their cast and also to provide sage advice about what is and isn’t historically accurate in their tale about Pilgrims, Native Americans, turkeys and whatnot.
Logan anxiously awaits the arrival of Alicia, who does indeed appear to be an indigenous person. When Logan asks Alicia for input and direction, though, all she gets in return is a blank stare.
Alicia is complimented by Logan’s conclusion that she’s Native American. That’s because, says Alicia, she’s an actress and can assume many roles representing many cultures because of her ancestry, which includes English and French and perhaps Spanish. You know, European and white.
This makes Logan nervous, which is what Logan does best. With no time for substitutes, the quartet of non-Native Americans proceeds forward with what they consider to be a politically correct version of a Thanksgiving play by "enlightened white people."
All will be well, though, because Alicia reminds everyone that she is an actress and can be quite convincing. She can even shake her hair from one side of her head to the other.
Highlights: It may be January, but The Rep and associate artistic director Amelia Acosta Powell deliver an hilarious holiday treat with an expert rendition of a story titled The Thanksgiving Play. Native American playwright Larissa FastHorse takes a hysterical and subtly educational look at the sticky wicket of the ‘manifest destiny’ of white men which was taught in American history books for centuries.
Other Info: FastHorse’s one-act, 90-minute comedy succeeds because she avoids sledgehammer subtlety, choosing instead to emphasize the outrageous treatment of Native Americans in the United States through the sound design implemented by Cricket S. Myers. It incorporates voice-over narration by an unseen elementary school teacher who unknowingly (we hope) perpetuates racist stereotypes in comments to her students.
The play takes place on a fun set designed by Efren Delgadillo Jr. which has the familiar look of a grade school classroom, complete with chalkboards, tiny bookshelves, posters, etc. Costumes designed by Lux Haac are intentionally stereotypical in a wincingly obvious way for the skit, while also dressing the characters in clothes which match their personalities. Everything is illuminated strategically by lighting designer Porche McGovern.
Acosta Powell judiciously utilizes the wide expanse of the stage to underscore the chasm of uncertainty in the various participants in Logan’s presentation. It’s especially funny when each of the four goes into ‘prep’ work for their roles, oblivious to the others.
Powell’s cast delivers uniformly priceless portrayals. Adam Flores is hilarious as Jaxton, the kind-of boyfriend to Logan who is overly cautious about not stepping into her territory until she offhandedly disregards him a time or two. Flores fills Jaxton with childlike wonder and a goofy pride in his reputation as a local ‘celebrity.’
Shayna Blass sets the tone for this production with her inspired portrayal of the well-meaning but frazzled and desperate Logan, who doesn’t even believe she’s all that good a teacher, which only exacerbates her stress. She’s especially amusing when Logan finds herself taking ‘womanly’ advice from the self-acknowledged, ‘hot’ Alicia.
Ani Djirdjirian as Alicia eschews the traditional ‘dumb blonde’ part for a ‘dumb brunette,’ who can easily manipulate Jaxton and Caden with a batted eyelash or the tossing of her long, dark hair. She tells Logan that she prepares for a part by looking up at the ceiling and thinking of nothing, and she sounds convincing.
Jonathan Spivey completes the quartet as the nerdy but ambitious Caden, a teacher who’s a stickler for historical accuracy and who thinks that he can serve all masters by writing and performing a script which reflects past injustices while also recognizing America’s national day of gratitude, regardless of its incarnation.
FastHorse has written a play that is funny from start to finish even as it skewers traditional white privilege and observes the real and not so pretty history and treatment of Native Americans. Did I mention that the characters devolve into conversations about ‘redface’ as they stumble through their clumsy PC attempts?
The Thanksgiving Play is a treasure on several levels, especially when given such a terrific treatment as in The Rep’s Studio Theatre.
Play: The Thanksgiving Play
Company: Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Venue: Studio Theatre, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
Dates: Through February 8
Tickets: $46-$71; contact 968-4925 or www.repstl.org
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Phillip Hamer