Monday, May 27, 2024

The Thanksgiving Play Review

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Hilarity Ensues in Square One Theatre Company’s The Thanksgiving Play
November 2nd-November 19th at Square One Theatre Company
Performances take place onstage at Stratford Academy, 719 Birdseye Street

By Kiersten Bjork

The Thanksgiving Play is a contemporary, witty satire by Larissa FastHorse, currently being produced by Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. Directed by Square One’s Artistic Director, Tom Holehan, it’s a clever production that walks that precarious line between funny and offensive, as The Thanksgiving Play tackles themes of racism and representation.

The plot follows a group of four white people as they try to create a politically correct and socially conscious play about the first Thanksgiving. What could possibly go wrong? As they try to determine how to tell a truthful story while staying in their lane as white people, hilarity ensues. Targets of jokes range from public schools to vegans, and of course, theatre and actors. Featuring a talented company of Square One veterans, it’s a strong production that had a Sunday matinee audience engaged and laughing from the start.

David Victor, J. Kevin Smith, Lynnette Victoria, and Lillian Garcia in Square One Theatre Company’s The Thanksgiving Play (Tyler Small)

Lillian Garcia plays Logan, a high school theatre teacher and director whose career is on the line thanks to a parent petition to have her fired following her recent direction of The Iceman Cometh at the school. The Thanksgiving play that they’re creating is her one shot at redemption, and as a result, Logan is a bit high-strung, to say the least. Garcia gives an entertaining performance as the well-meaning, stressed-out director. Logan has a ton on her plate thanks to the petition, the various grants she needs to satisfy, and more, and Garcia balances the weight of Logan’s situation and her amusing moments with expert skill. Logan voices many of the representation issues presented by four white people trying to write a truthful Thanksgiving play, and Garcia’s seriousness and honest delivery allows the humor in each situation to shine through.

​Jaxton, self-professed “yoga dude” and professional actor/street performer, is played by David Victor. Victor leans into the use of over exaggerated expressions and gestures, creating a hilarious character. Jaxton walks to the beat of his own drum, as do pretty much all the characters in this piece, and Victor does an excellent job of giving Jaxton a slightly whacky side that lends itself well to the comedy in the piece.

J. Kevin Smith is charming and amusing as history teacher and closeted playwright, Caden. To say that Caden is thrilled to be a part of the creative process for this new play about Thanksgiving is an understatement, and Smith brought all the energy and glee to the role that could be desired. He gives a very animated performance, punctuating his dialogue with expressive movement and gesture, in a way that works for the character. His excitement is palpable, and it was fun to watch his interactions throughout the show due to the enthusiasm that Caden exudes.

The final member of the company is Lynnette Victoria as Alicia, a Los Angeles-based actress who is cast in the new play thanks to a Native American Heritage Month grant – a grant that was originally intended to allow them to hire a Native American actress. Turns out, Alicia isn’t quite what they intended… Victoria is a riot as the glamorous yet airheaded Alicia. Her choices when embodying Alicia’s “simplicity,” as Logan calls it, are quite funny, and her performance overall is a delight.

J. Kevin Smith, Lynnette Victoria, David Victor, and Lillian Garcia in Square One Theatre Company’s The Thanksgiving Play (Tyler Small)

Scenic design by Robert Mastroni suits the show perfectly. The Thanksgiving Play is set in a high school theatre classroom, and so the set features desks, folding chairs, past show posters, and other classroom décor that feels at home in a high school theatre setting. The poster for the ill-fated production of The Iceman Cometh features prominently on the upstage wall. I do wish there had been a few more posters for shows that are hilariously inappropriate for the high school age group, as that’s a joke that can be drawn out a bit with this production.

Lighting designer Clifford Fava creates a basic but effective look for the production. Since everything takes place in one classroom, not many lighting shifts are needed. Costumes by coordinator Gaetana Barbano-Grinder work well to evoke the personalities of each character. Caden’s look is textbook teacher, from his vest to his satchel, while Alicia’s look is stylish, the turquoise pendant necklace a nice touch.

​Sound designer Don Henault’s work shines on the musical interludes between scenes. As the scene shifts, silly Thanksgiving-themed songs play. I wish they went a little longer, as there are some good moments of humor in there, but I enjoyed what I heard.

J. Kevin Smith, Lynnette Victoria, David Victor, and Lillian Garcia in Square One Theatre Company’s The Thanksgiving Play (Tyler Small)

The Thanksgiving Play is an entertaining satire that is playing just in time for the holiday season. It’s funny – full of clever dialogue and hilarious interactions – and it uses that humor to remind us of the issues of representation and more that linger at the core of the story. Head down to Square One Theatre Company’s production for more than a few laughs – catch The Thanksgiving Play before it closes on November 19!

The Thanksgiving Play runs November 2-November 19 at Square One Theatre Company in Stratford, CT. Performances take place onstage at Stratford Academy, 719 Birdseye Street, Stratford, CT. The production has a runtime of approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets are available through the Box Office (203.375.8778), or online at squareonetheatre.com/.

Kiersten Bjork is a theatremaker and reviewer (Connecticut Critics Circle) from Branford.

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