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‘It’s okay to laugh’: Auburn theatre students to perform ‘The Thanksgiving Play’ satire before its Broadway debut

The cast of The Thanksgiving Play in costume

In Larissa FastHorse’s “The Thanksgiving Play,” well-meaning educators try to stage a pageant that celebrates both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month with disastrous results. Before its Broadway debut in spring 2023, Auburn students will be among the only actors in the country performing the comedic piece.

Director and Department Chair Chase Bringardner said the play elevates the work educators do to achieve the impossible to an absurd extreme.

“If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that teachers have really hard jobs,” Bringardner said. “This play, in many ways, celebrates the labor of teaching and the difficulty educators face when they’re trying to handle difficult conversations in classrooms. These characters are so committed to what they think is right and they’re so wrong, but that’s where the humor is.”

“The Thanksgiving Play” focuses on four main characters who navigate assumptions around Thanksgiving and take an elementary school pageant way too seriously. Theatre sophomore Hali Everette, who plays Logan, a high school drama teacher trying to prove herself, said the narrative packages very real national conversations into a funny story.

“These topics are hard, and the play handles them through comedy,” Everette said. “It’s easier to understand. When you’re presented a hard topic in a serious way, there’s sometimes so many emotions going on you lose focus. This is easier to digest. You’re laughing at something because it’s so true. And it’s okay to laugh.”

Nick DiJulio is a theatre performance and visual media studies junior who plays Jaxton, a yoga teacher who takes political correctness too far. DiJulio said knowing “The Thanksgiving Play” is the first play written by an indigenous woman to receive a Broadway production gives the play important context.

“The show itself was written by an indigenous person,” DiJulio said. “This is not a show about good people doing the right thing and all of the jokes in it shouldn’t be perceived as if a white person wrote them. It is important for people to recognize that the authorship of this actually provides a lot of the agency about how horrible these white characters appear to be when they’re doing something that is pretty well-intentioned, though it falls apart pretty badly.”

One of the play’s main takeaways, according to theatre sophomore Cecilia Frederick, is to focus less on being correct and more on being supportive.

“It shows us a lot about performative activism versus being active in your community to evoke social justice,” Frederick said. “It really highlights the difference between saying something and doing something, so I think the playwright is really trying to point out that being active in your community and lifting up other people is important and just saying that you’re politically correct isn’t very helpful or doing anything for anyone else.”

Avonlea Yeakley, a junior in performance minoring in dance, will play Alicia, an actress from Los Angeles who knows she’s attractive. Beyond lessons about performative activism, Yeakley said it shows the importance of educators in cultivating an appreciation for the arts.

“All art has validity. That respect for all level of the arts begins early. Like the educators we see in the play, that begins with them. It starts there,” Yeakley said. “The staged reading is a really cool opportunity to focus on the dialogue that was written and the very specific cadences and the very specific language and vocabulary that was chosen by the playwright while also having it in an intimate space in the Blackbox.”

For theatre and psychology sophomore Tapley Cronier, who plays Caden, the overqualified history teacher, “The Thanksgiving Play” has helped define his Auburn experience.

“We read this play for our introduction to theatre class. That’s how I first experienced it,” Cronier said. “Now we’re performing it here, then it’s going to Broadway, so it feels like a series of steppingstones I got to see. It’s really interesting that some people are going to come watch it here for the first time ever, having never really heard about it, and then it’s going to be on Broadway and almost everyone will have heard about ‘The Thanksgiving Play.’”

The staged reading will include limited set pieces and focus on the interaction between characters in the play. This kind of performance is often utilized in the development of new plays for Broadway and offers smaller audiences an opportunity to engage with the source material. The Department of Theatre and Dance also offers “Talkbacks” in which the audience can discuss the play with the cast and crew following each performance.

“We’re really lucky to get to do this play before it’s on Broadway,” Bringardner said. “This play has been really popular in the regional theatre scene and will be even more so after it’s on Broadway. When these students graduate, they’ll be asked to perform it. So, it’s giving us an exciting opportunity to bring the professional world directly into our rehearsal spaces here.”

“The Thanksgiving Play” staged reading will run Oct. 27-28 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 30 at 2:30 p.m. For more information and to buy tickets, visit here.

Tags: Theatre and Dance

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