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Capital Stage's Wickedly Satirical ‘Thanksgiving Play’ Skewers Turkey Day, Political Correctness

Charr Crail Photography / Courtesy

Jennifer Le Blanc, Cassidy Brown, Gabby Battista & Jouni Kirjola in "The Thanksgiving Play" by Larissa FastHorse.

Charr Crail Photography / Courtesy

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Christmas in July.” Well, it’s June, and Sacramento’s Capital Stage is doing a show about Turkey Day.

It’s called "The Thanksgiving Play," it was written by a Native American playwright, and it is a sharp satire that takes aim at well-intentioned political correctness.

Capital Stage likes to produce challenging, provocative plays, and their current comedy is exactly that. It’s set in a high school drama classroom, where the teacher is putting together an original play that is supposed to simultaneously honor Thanksgiving and Native American Month.

The teacher has noble intentions, and she’s lined up several grants to finance the project. But she’s worried about how she’s going to depict serving a Thanksgiving turkey, because she doesn’t eat meat.

There’s another problem: The teacher hired an actress because she believed she was Native American, and would bring cultural authenticity to the project. But the actress is actually a white girl from Los Angeles, though she’s played diverse characters in some Disney productions

Having an all-white cast take on Native American issues was actually a deliberate choice by Native American playwright Larissa FastHorse, who has written other plays with Native American characters, but theater companies are leery of  casting white actors in Native American roles — a practice known as “redface” — so those plays seldom get done.

"The Thanksgiving Play" features white actors who want to do the right thing, coming to grips with Native American issues they don’t entirely understand. The results are hilarious, though you may occasionally wince and giggle at the same time. And wouldn’t you know it, this script is being staged at theaters around the country.

This Sacramento production by Capital Stage features nifty acting by a well-chosen cast of four, and director Michael Stevenson whips up the absurd comedy in an appealing way. The sharp social satire is easy to enjoy, even as the script scores points about American history and the challenges Native American artists face. If you’re looking for a nimble summer comedy that also delivers plenty of food for thought, “The Thanksgiving Play” makes for an attractive, silly-but-savvy choice.

"The Thanksgiving Play" continues through July 22 at Capital Stage in Sacramento.

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