‘The Thanksgiving Play’ Broadway Review: No Meat On These Bones
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‘The Thanksgiving Play’ Broadway Review: No Meat On These Bones

Nov 27, 2023

Eight years is pretty close to eternity when it comes to sell-by dates for topical humor, which might be one reason that the jokes in Larissa FastHorse's Broadway comedy The Thanksgiving Play fall flat as an underbaked pie. We can only surmise that when she first began writing this satire on Liberal guilt, woke sensitivities and Goopy indulgence back in 2015, words like "decoupling" and "soy milk" seemed like terrific punchlines.

Opening tonight at the Hayes Theater, The Thanksgiving Play, directed by Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) and starring D’Arcy Carden, Katie Finneran, Scott Foley, and Chris Sullivan – all of whom, director and cast, have done much better work on other stages – is the sort of easy-target satire that should by all rights have sophisticated New York audiences seeing their own foibles and smiling at their own political vulnerabilities.

So where exactly does this Thanksgiving go awry? Starts with the soup, ends with the nuts.

Set in an elementary school classroom, the play follows four white adults – a drama teacher, her sometime-actor "yoga dude" boyfriend, a high school history instructor, and a Los Angeles actress, mistakenly thought to be of Native American descent – tasked with staging this year's Thanksgiving play. The liberal teacher and her equally earnest boyfriend are determined to present a politically correct account of the Pilgrim-Native American feast story, and so have recruited that history-slash-playwright-wannab teacher as well as the actress they believe will provide a non-white perspective.

From the get-go, the premise asks a lot of the audience. We’re meant to believe that a grade-school production is to star a professional Los Angeles actress? That even in the post-George Floyd era (he's name-checked, in fact) there's real government "diversity" money to be had for such productions? That even the most cluelessly "woke" do-gooders could have an exchange like the one in which they ask the not-so-Native American actress about her family's holiday traditions.

"We just ate food and watched games," she says.

"What kind of games?" they ask.

"Just the ones that everyone watches," she replies, a response the audience understands even if the dimwits on stage don't.

Asked how they can learn more about these games, the actress says, "I think the Chiefs are playing Monday, right?"

Comes the response, "There's a whole game just for chiefs? That's amazing!"

Such far-fetched lines pile up like so many Thanksgiving turkey bones, the dialogue as inexplicable as the sudden appearance of bloody human prop heads (this is a grade school, please remember, even if the playwright doesn't) and out-of-character actions (yoga dude somehow gets his hands on blue face paint and goes full-on Braveheart).

Interspersed throughout the fictional goings-on are videos projections of school kids reciting apparently real-life grade-school Thanksgiving songs, appallingly racist and violent. It's unclear exactly when these grotesqueries were written, but they make stronger points than anything else happening onstage.

Title: The Thanksgiving PlayVenue: Broadway's Hayes TheaterDirector: Rachel ChavkinPlaywright: Larissa FastHorseCast: D’Arcy Carden, Katie Finneran, Scott Foley, and Chris SullivanRunning time: 80 min (no intermission)

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