Theater Review: THE THANKSGIVING PLAY (Dezart Performs in Palm Springs)

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by Jason Mannino on November 8, 2023

in Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)


Dezarts Performs (Dezarts) has opened their new season with a fine production of Larissa Fasthorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, which runs just two weekends, ending this Sunday, November 12. The Thanksgiving Play had its world premiere in 2018. As of April, 2023 it is the only Native American play written by a female to premiere on Broadway. This fact alone highlights its relevance and validates Dezarts as one of the valley’s boldest theater companies. It is not lost on me that to call the production bold, given the positive impact indigenous tribes have on our daily lives here in the Coachella Valley, seems problematic.

The Thanksgiving Play involves four well-intentioned, terminally “woke” theatre artists meeting in the rehearsal room at an elementary school. There, they attempt to create an educational, culturally sensitive experience for their students that includes a play that will try to celebrate Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month. At the head of this attempt are terminal vegan, and teacher Logan (Macy Idzakovich) and her yoga teacher boyfriend Jaxton (Matthew Grondin), who is politically correct to a fault. We also learn that this production is Logan’s attempt to keep her job. Having recently produced O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh with 15-year-olds, a 300-parent petition that calls for her termination is circulating. So, she pursued several grants ranging from education to cultural awareness to bring together the team that that will create it. The others include fellow history teacher and academic, Caden (John Wuchets), brought in as performer/consultant who has written numerous plays with no clue how to produce them; and Alicia (Stefania Gonzalez), a beautiful actress hired by Logan under the false impression that as a Native American she will provide the authentic voice and experience on the project. We soon learn that Alicia is white, and Logan hired her based on one of her multiple headshots that appropriate various ethnicities.

This production affirms Dezarts consistency with mounting impeccably executed productions. Michael Shaw’s inspired direction elicits full-throttled performances from a masterful ensemble. Idzakovich is commanding as Logan, Grondin effectively captures the nuances of a terminally woke, yoga-teaching vegan. Wuchets is quite funny as the naïve history teacher lusting for Alicia. Gonzalez, as the seemingly ignorant clueless Alicia only interested in fame and money, gives a sincere performance to a character that ultimately has some of the most depth.

We need more plays like Fasthorse’s about the experience of indigenous people in the U.S. produced at the highest levels of theatre in this country. However, the play does have some unsolved problems. The playwright said herself that she wrote a hysterical play that is “gonna add minutes to your life.” Art imitates life, and while her intentions are good the comedy in the text is forced and lands infrequently. The laughs that do come are largely due to the effective work of this nimble ensemble.

The play became one of the most produced in the U.S. following its Off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons in 2018. That makes sense given both its affordability (4 characters, one set) and deconstruction of centuries of our country’s erasure of indigenous people. However, it was penned in 2015. Since that time political, social and cultural issues have been turned on their head. Culture wars abound. There are now over 1,500 titles on the banned books list. Parents and administrators are passing laws to remove curriculum in schools that teach race theory, sexuality, gender identity and more. None of this is being perpetrated by the teachers and “woke police” inferred in the play. Hence, it lacks urgency. One takeaway is in witnessing a play that in less than 10 years seems to be out of step with time.

Ultimately, the play ends suggesting that perhaps white artists should do less and make space for self-empowered indigenous people to create their own work. The team decides that their play will literally be space and silence. With this they are onto something, perhaps something profound.

photos courtesy of Dezarts Performs

The Thanksgiving Play
Dezarts Performs
Pearl McManus Theater
at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S Cahuilla Road in Palm Springs
Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 7:30; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on November 12, 2023
for tickets ($48–$55), call 760.322.0179 or visit Dezart Performs

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