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Diversity Liars: “The Thanksgiving Play” reviewed

In Larissa FastHorse’s semi-satire The Thanksgiving Play, a group of liberal-minded white people gathers to devise a play about Thanksgiving that will honor a Native American perspective on the atrocities Pilgrims committed without any insight into an actual Native American perspective. Their project, as you’d expect, goes wrong quickly. The problem is that The Thanksgiving Play intentionally hurtles its characters toward a dead end.

The entire play takes place in a high-school classroom, where Katie Finneran’s crunchy drama teacher, Logan, has taken it upon herself to come up with an appropriately sensitive play for Native American Heritage Month. Logan’s lover-collaborator, Jaxton, (Scott Foley) is himself hurt that his status as a professional actor — actually, he’s a street performer — has not qualified him for the grant money that provides unemployment for indigenous person like Alicia, who is actually not “Native American.”. Rounding out the group, Chris Sullivan plays a history teacher with dreams of the stage who has prepared reams of research on colonial history that no one wants to pay much attention to. FastHorse writes volleys of jokes about this trio’s general obliviousness, though they’re such easy targets that it remains clear who the joke is on at all; I imagine may in the audience might not get that their wokeness isn’t being chided, because it isn’t being chided sharply enough.

Interspersed with the scenes depicting the piece’s chaotic creation are several holiday-themed videos featuring children, including one in which they’re dressed as pilgrims while singing the parody song “The Twelve Days of Thanksgiving.” There are also some very amusing theatrical in-jokes, including throwaway gags about whether the proper spelling is “theater” or “theatre” and what exactly a dramaturg does.

Not all of the jokes land, and even with its brief 90-minute running time, the evening ultimately has the feel of an overextended sketch. That’s particularly true of this new production directed by Rachel Chavkin, which feels much broader than the original staging and features some theatrical flourishes near the end that feel wholly unnecessary. Less a lampoon than a scoff, The Thanksgiving Play has plenty of stuffing but little of nutritious value.