LOGAN – Perhaps the only thing worst than enduring a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with a typically dysfunctional American family might be trying to write a non-traditional play about that holiday.
That’s the challenge facing a dubious quartet of totally unprepared playwrights in “The Thanksgiving Play,” a satiric romp by Larissa Fasthorse that debuted Friday in the Morgan Theatre on the campus of Utah State University.
The running gag in this Lyric Repertory Company production is that the idealistic young devotees of political correctness are determined to write a play that is suitable for elementary school children, historically accurate, avoids stereotypes and offends no one.
But one of the biggest obstacles to achieving that goal turns out to be their own obsessive anxiety about offending each other.
Lyric veterans AJ Black and Julia Hochner appear as Jaxon and Logan, a woke couple who hide their romantic relationship so as not to compromise their exaggerated delusions of professional ethics. She’s a failed actress turned teacher who has convinced herself that inner beauty trumps sex appeal. He’s a self-proclaimed itinerant actor (AKA street performer) who does a little yoga on the side.
After a three-year absence, Matthew Abosamra is back at the Lyric as the clueless Caden, a frustrated writer who’s more interested in scoring a date than a successful Thanksgiving pageant.
Finally, Lyric newcomer Cat Evangelho is the ditzy Hollywood starlet Alicia. As always, it takes a smart actress to convincingly play a dumb role and Ms. Evangelho just may be the smartest person on the stage.
The unlikely group’s initial efforts to combine Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month is stymied by the lack of a Native American actor. That’s a pointed jab from Fasthorse at the theater community, because she has often been told that her plays cannot be produced because Native American performers can’t be found and no politically-correct director nowadays would dare ask an actor to pretend to be an indigenous person.
While trying to paste a happy face on America’s legacy of genocide and violent westward expansion, the fractured team of would-be do-gooders succumbs to a wacky case of artistic paralysis.
Black and Ms. Hockner are hilarious as their lofty psychobabble opposing racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination rapidly degenerates into personal remarks that only another ridiculously woke person would find hurtful.
Amosamra meanwhile proves to be as hapless a failure at flirting as he is at writing, while much of the play’s sturm and drang sails blythly over Ms. Evangelho’s head.
The Lyric’s inaugural emerging director Summer Session keeps the wickedly funny action of “The Thanksgiving Play” moving at a fast and furious clip. She also ingeniously separates the play’s scenes with side-splitting vignettes of other Thanksgiving plays that have gone horribly wrong.
Despite all the laughter, “The Thanksgiving Play” nevertheless delivers a potent message about the absurdity of trying to write and perform shows about Native Americans without their input.
Performances of “The Thanksgiving Play” will continue at the Morgan Theatre on June 24 and 30, plus July 10 and 17.