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The Thanksgiving Play

(Left to right) Andriane Leigh Robinson as Alicia, John Jurcheck as Jaxton, Matthew Schneck as Caden, and Emily Ebertz as Logan
(L to R) Andriane Leigh Robinson as Alicia, John Jurcheck as Jaxton,
Matthew Schneck as Caden, and Emily Ebertz as Logan
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
As Columbus Day fades slowly into the sunset, Native American playwright Larissa FastHorse asks how a theatre collaboration between four white American actors should explain the meaning of Thanksgiving to high school students.

Given the hyperbolic sense of political correctness and new age spirituality embodied in the characters, they face some steep challenges in tackling the scale of slaughter that Europeans wrought across the North American continent (and around the world). The confluence of these polar-opposite realities becomes fodder for a series of brainstorming sessions and sketches, as the ensemble searches for a solution that is entertaining for the young audience, as well as accurate historically.

Emily Ebertz as Logan
Emily Ebertz as Logan
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
At the first rehearsal, we meet: Logan (Emily Ebertz), the director, who has a grant to create a Thanksgiving play for the school district; Jaxton (John Jurcheck), her boyfriend and aspiring actor; Caden (Matthew Schneck), who wrote a script for the play; and Alicia (Adriane Leigh Robinson), whom Logan hired based on a headshot taken in Native American garb.

FastHorse has a field day with the caricatures she draws. Logan is a vegan for whom Thankgiving dinners are challenge. She and Jaxton have a ritual they use for "decoupling," when they are in a professional situation together. As the director and grant-recipient, Logan bears the responsibility for the production. Ebertz deftly holds Logan's empowerment and self-doubt simultaneously, with the later as subtext, until it finally bubbles to the surface in the most unexpected way.

Matthew Schneck as Caden and Adriane Leigh Robinson as Alicia
Matthew Schneck as Caden
and Adriane Leigh Robinson as Alicia
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
When Logan learns that Alicia is not Native American, she becomes frantic, as she was counting on such authenticity to keep everything politically correct and sensitive. Worse yet, Alicia is drop-dead gorgeous, but seemingly has little to offer, other than her references to Disney stories and her provocative body language—the latter drawing the persistent attention of Jaxton and Caden, not to mention large segments of the audience.

All of this Robinson pulls off with aplomb, but it is during a heart-to-heart with Logan that she reveals Alicia's secret: she is able to stare at an object and think of nothing. Lots of laughs in this sketch, as Robinson shows us how easily Alicia turns off her thoughts. Logan accepts this advice as a gift, to deal with her anxieties, and comes to see Alicia in a different way.

John Jurcheck as Jaxton
John Jurcheck as Jaxton
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
Jurcheck shines in the delicious task of exemplifying the most erudite politically correct male on the planet and presenting the details of Jaxton's thoughts on these matters, as if he walked straight out of Whole Foods in Boulder (priceless costume concept and designs by Kevin Brainerd and Linda Morken).

Given the setting of a high school drama room (fun set by Charles Dean Packard), the stage is set for inside theatre jokes. In addition to Alicia's sharing of her technique—"just pretend" (à la Olivier's quip to Hoffman re the dental torture scene in Marathon Man)—we have Caden trying to sell Logan on his script ideas. When one of his scenes is finally performed, Schneck's expression of gratitude via Caden, as he sees his characters come alive off the page, for seemingly the first time in his life, captures the epitomy of the would-be playwright idiom. You'd think he was Arthur Miller winning the hand of Marilyn Monroe. ... Oh, wait!

FastHorse shows politial correctness for what it is—an unwillingness to recognize the context for the forces that shaped history—and how it leads to debasement of the narrative. Consider the Holocaust films Shindler's List and Sophie's Choice: the depiction of anti-Semitism in these films is not anti-Semitic, just as depicting the near extermination of Native Americans—for example, the Sand Creek massacre here in Colorado—would not be discrimination. But such is PC today that Fasthorse's characters elect not to illustrate the massacre of the 1637 slaughter of 600 Pequot men, women, and children, which the colonists celebrated with a day of thanksgiving and feasting. Perhaps the audience would be disturbed by this ... as they should be!

In lieu of this, what Fasthorse suggests is that, much like trying to explain the scale of the Holocaust, Native Americans are best honored on Thanksgiving or any day with silence and holding the space. Of course, there is a lot more that we could do, in terms of current conditions on the reservations and the abrogation of countless treaties.

Curious Theatre Company's presentation of The Thanksgiving Play, directed by Dee Covington, runs through December 15th. For tickets: curioustheatre.org; or, call the Box Office at 303-623-0524.

Bob Bows



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