Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Thanksgiving Play—Artists Rep—SW Portland


Journey From There To Here


     This World Premiere of Larissa FastHorse’s (Sicangu Lakota) revealing comedy is directed by Luan Schooler.  It is playing at their space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through April 29TH.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org and check out their dynamic next season, as well.

     I wish I could say with some confidence that we’ve come a long way from that purported first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and Native Americans to this point, but I’d be lying if I did.  What should have been great strides are, instead, at best, baby steps.  Maybe that’s why any intelligent life in the universe has passed us by, as they observed our current “growth” and decided that we were still too infantile in our behavior and weren’t worth contacting!

     The author surprised me, pleasantly, in the way she handled the subject of the Rockwell-like image we have of the First Thanksgiving, as grappled with by some well-meaning educators onstage and some earnest children on video (those images are precious and, oh, so true, as I have witnessed such displays).  The four educators represent a microcosm of White America trying mightily to represent Native Americans in this complex dance but tripping over each other along the way.

     The purpose is this, that a schoolteacher has received a grant to present a play about the First Thanksgiving with elementary school kids.  The director of the piece is Logan (Sarah Lucht) who is sincere in her efforts, but may be over-intellectualizing them, to do the right thing, but is confronted, through the story, as to just what that would be.  Also, on hand, is her boyfriend, Jaxton (Michael O’Connell) a street-performer, probably ex-hippie, who senses he is in tune with the universe.  Logan hires a professional actress for the lead role (in a play yet to be written), Alicia (Claire Rigsby), who has practiced the art of simplicity to the nth degree.  And the final ingredient to this motley crew is Caden (Chris Harder), the researcher, who seems to see only the literal world of events and is extremely reluctant to forgo that position.

     These are the ingredients to the delicately seasoned stew, adding, of course, the video of school children, and a Native American female writer.  What could possibly happen when these elements are all mixed together.  But if I told you more, I would be a spoiler and so, suffice to say, the outcome is not expected but very satisfying, something to chew on.  A hint would be an old adage to be taken literally (which the character of Caden would appreciate), “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
I thought at first that the author may have painted herself into a corner, as identity, cultural equality, history, et. al. are such deep subjects that, how would you conclude such an exploration of this.  But she does a remarkable job and the director has enhanced this by letting us see ourselves in these four characters and lets us ruminate on it.  Also, something that may not be obvious to much of the audience, is that the acting styles of the four individuals are actual acting stances that are valid in the theatre in creating art.  Having spent over forty years in the performing arts myself, I do recognize these types of artists.

     The actors are all spot-on in their performances and are at the top of their form!  And the addition of the videos of young performers was a stroke of genius.  I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell then Dennis sent you.
--DJS