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The Thanksgiving Play
Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

(standing) Dani Stoller, Megan Graves, and
David Schlumpf; (kneeling) Parker Drown

Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography

How can educators depict the Native perspective of Thanksgiving if no members of that community are available to take part in the conversation? That’s the inspiration behind The Thanksgiving Play, the initial production in the newly expanded Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Maryland’s Olney Theatre Center.

Director Raymond O. Caldwell is working with four accomplished actors in bringing to life Larissa FastHorse’s satire of “wokeness” in the classroom and sharing unfamiliar perspectives. Megan Graves is Logan, a high school drama teacher whose past controversies include staging The Iceman Cometh with a cast of 15-year-olds; Parker Drown is her friend Jaxton, a street performer devoted to yoga, clean living, and being the most enlightened person in any group; David Schlumpf is Caden, a history teacher and aspiring playwright determined to crowd every relevant fact into his dramatizations; and Dani Stoller is Alicia, a wide-eyed actress with more ambition than knowledge about anything other than herself.

Logan has received grant funding to create an elementary school play about the history of the Thanksgiving holiday, assisted by Jaxton and Caden. However, since the familiar story casts the Pilgrims as the heroes and the Native Americans in supporting roles, Logan wants to broaden the conversation, receiving grants that call for more diverse participation. That’s why Alicia has joined the production, but she may not be what she appears.

Caldwell’s fluid touch keeps things bubbling as FastHorse’s zingers hit their targets, as when Jaxton notes that “we’re post the post-racial society” and ponders whether not having a representative of a specific community to speak means no one else can speak on its behalf.

Stoller grabs the audience’s attention as Alicia stretches her shoulders, tosses her long hair, and answers questions literally because she doesn’t really pick up on nuance. Schlumpf’s flexible facial expressions animate Caden’s love for history and his lack of understanding the laws of drama (such as why a children’s play can’t cover the events of thousands of years). Graves meticulously shows Logan’s inspirations and frustrations, while Drown fluently navigates the buzzwords of self-awareness and social responsibility.

Milagros Ponce de León’s scenic design uses the flexible Mulitz-Gudelsky stage to create an expansive classroom space that includes a closet and windows into the hall; Jeannette Christensen’s costumes are mostly realistic but also include some amusing bits of Pilgrim and Native wear; and Kelly Colburn and Dylan Uremovich have created interstitial projections that are both hilarious and horrifying, especially because FastHorse adapted them from actual lesson plans she found online.

The Thanksgiving Play runs through October 31, 2021, in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.

By Larissa FastHorse
Directed by Raymond O. Caldwell

Cast:
Jaxton: Parker Drown
Logan: Megan Graves
Caden: David Schlumpf
Alicia: Dani Stoller

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