On Wed, Oct. 20-23 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 23 and 24 at 2:00 p.m, Theatre Fairfield performed its first live show since 2020: “The Thanksgiving Play” by Larissa FastHorse. This one-act satirical production is actually one of the ten most produced plays in the U.S. over the past four years.
Not only was I incredibly excited to see an in-person play again for the first time in a while, but I was also extremely thrilled to watch my first Fairfield theatre show!
Once I entered the Quick Center lobby, I was truly mesmerized by the beauty and cleanliness, as it was my first time stepping foot inside the building. Gorgeous paintings hung from the walls, slightly hidden by the statues placed in front and a large chandelier hung from the ceiling.
After receiving my ticket, which was only $5 for Fairfield students, I quickly found my way to the BlackBox area where small chair pods were set up for the audience. Once the spectator count reached 60 members, the doors were immediately closed in order to abide by social distancing guidelines. Additionally, in order to even enter the theatre, all audience members had to be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination; otherwise, the audience was encouraged to watch the show via live-stream.
This rule was to ensure the safety of all viewers, but also the student performers as they were maskless during the production. All actors were also fully vaccinated and tested weekly.
Lastly, throughout the 100-minute showing, there was no intermission. If you were to leave the theatre, you were not permitted back inside. No food or drinks were allowed, as masks had to cover both the audience’s nose and mouth for the entirety of the performance.
Waiting for the show to begin in my socially distant pod, I read the playbill which included a land acknowledgment stating: “We acknowledge that indigenous peoples and nations, including Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke Golden Hill Paugussett, Niantic and the Quinnipiac and other Algonquian speaking peoples, have stewarded through generations that lands and waterways of what now make up the state of Connecticut. We honor and respect the enduring relationship that exists between these peoples and nations and this land.”
Additionally, there were two pages acknowledging the land and local Native American history as well as a final page sharing notes on the first thanksgiving
All while reading the show’s playbill, the song “Indian Outlaw” by Tim McGraw played in the background. The repetitive and catchy chorus “Cause I’m an Indian outlaw; Half Cherokee and Choctaw; My baby, she’s a Chippewa; She’s a one of a kind,” provided a good tone for what the audience was about to watch.
As the Director, Jacob Hofmann, states in his director’s note located in the playbill, the play revolves around “four main characters [who] consider themselves to be ‘enlightened’ folks with the best intentions at heart. And like so many of us living in America today, these characters have blind spots.”
The play takes place in a present-day high school theatre classroom, where a drama teacher, Logan (Emily Sheridan ‘24), tries to create a politically correct play about the first Thanksgiving for Native American Heritage Month. Her boyfriend, Jaxton (Jay Martins ‘22), alongside Alicia (Tracy Ferguson ‘22), a hired actress, tries to act in Logan’s play. Caden (Carlin Fournier ‘22), a high school teacher and hopeful playwright, also jumps in to try and help make a good show.
While Logan hired Alicia to be a Native American “cultural compass” in the playwriting process, it is revealed that she is actually a white actress who roleplays as different ethnicities when needed. The four white, main characters frantically try to figure out a way to portray a historically accurate and politically correct representation of the first Thanksgiving without a Native American voice.
Sophomore Emily Sheridan, who played the role of Logan, shared that “This play made me look into issues that hadn’t previously been on my mind. While preparing for the role, I read a lot of Larissa FastHorse’s statements.”
“This is something I wouldn’t have done if not given the opportunity to learn about this show through Theatre Fairfield,” Sheridan continues.
Overall, I thought all four students did a wonderful job in playing their roles. It could not have been cast more perfectly, as each character portrayed their character to a tee. Every line was projected enough so audience members could hear it and every line delivery was just right, invoking numerous laughs from all spectators.
An interesting addition to “The Thanksgiving Play” was the unique inclusion of four interludes: showing different videos in the format of “TurkTok,” a satirical spin-off of the popular app, TikTok.
“According to the playwright, Larissa FastHorse, we ‘are sadly inspired by the Internet, mostly current teachers’ Pinterest boards,’” writes the theatre program director and show producer, Martha LoManco. She advises that we ‘Play with the theatricality of these scenes’ and to ‘have fun.’
She continues, “As Producer, I thought it was an ingenious way of engaging college students who were probably quite familiar with the original TikToks that were being lampooned.”
When asked why Theatre Fairfield chose “The Thanksgiving Play” LoManco shares that “In line with the Jesuit mission of our university, we believe that all theatre is Social Justice theatre, designed to galvanize audiences to empathize with characters braving injustices through compelling entertainment that engages both hearts and minds. Hence, we choose plays that are important to a university community committed to Social Justice.”
And what better way to portray a socially just play like “The Thanksgiving Play”?
LoManco states, “There is no other way to describe the outrageous scene where the three characters throw the silly props representing the severed head of Native Americans as anything but cringeworthy. These characters truly believe they are making a point about white colonials’ brutality against Native people, whom they call ‘savages’ with this outrageous behavior.”
LoManco also quoted President Biden’s “build back better” and how it has been especially true for American theatre as the COVID-19 pandemic has heavily affected theatres by enforcing closure, changes within scheduling work hours and hiring practices, to name a few changes.
“As theatre reopens after COVID, none of us want to return to the way things used to be—hence, my borrowing of the phrase that we, in line with all American theatre, need to build back better,” LoMancco states. “Although Theatre Fairfield has always strived to produce theatre that will engage, challenge, inform, expand the horizons of and delight the Fairfield University community, we have no intention of resting on our laurels as we reopen our doors.”
Theatre Fairfield’s next performance is “Project X” by Judy Tate. This will take place on Dec. 2 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 5 at 2:00 p.m. at the Quick Center Blackbox and will also be Livestreamed for those who are unvaccinated or can not make it in person.