An awkward silence resonated in the Curious Theatre Company on Thursday, November 7. Not because the lines were unfunny, nor because the acting was subpar, as that too was not the plight of this play. It was because the beat of The Thanksgiving Play was so irreverently censored that it was like looking in a fun-house mirror of a distorted reality.
When it comes to art, foraging through a society overflowing with political correctness and sensitivity can be more damaging than helpful. Just ask the Curious Theatre Company, a venue known for its deep dive into cultural, ethical, gender, and racial issues. They are more than comfortable tackling things like censorship and equity in order to begin a conversation, rather than talking around and squashing the chance for it to flourish. In “The Thanksgiving Play,” this troupe is back at it again and has taken on the task of reflecting a mirror directly at all we do that is PC.
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In all honesty, The Thanksgiving Play may be serving Americans exactly what we need this holiday season: a dose of realness in a climate that is so sensitive. Based in an elementary drama room, the theatre teacher, who is appropriately vegan and woke, has assembled a group of four writers and actors to depict a historically accurate rendition of Thanksgiving. However, the story unfolds that this group of white folks are not likely the best group to be telling such a tale.
Turmoil over political correctness, arguments over sensibilities, and over-the-top skits unfold and quickly dissolve into, “No, we shouldn’t.” Torment over not justly portraying the horrific reality and fate of indigenous people as a result of the “discovery” of America has left the foursome at a loss. How do a group of white people sensitively represent a minority group who have been slain in the conquering of this country rather than default to resting on a tired and untrue story of turkey and sharing? The result is as comedic as it is uncomfortable.
The cast is plucked out perfectly, each actor giving a performance that has us rooting for them to find success in their journey. The lighting and set design lends a beautiful and interesting delivery to the story, never upstaging the actors but playing right alongside them. The costumes are fun, giving each character movement and a chance to play into their stereotypical roles with some nuance and intention. With the direction of Dee Covington, the holiday staple Curious Theatre Company director, the intentional flops and raucous follies of the entire production took a brave step into territory that is often side-stepped or swept under.
The Thanksgiving Play, written by Larissa FastHorse, uses comedy as a conduit of smart and informed entertainment in order to deliver the facts of what the Thanksgiving season means to so many. While the audience is laughing at these characters on stage for their extreme views on social and racial justice for the indigenous people, we see ourselves and therefore can be more understanding of their struggle. With the population in Denver being nearly 77 percent white folks according to the US Census Bureau, it is likely that the audiences who see shows like the Curious Theatre Company’s current production are predominately of a caucasian decent.
Theatre, a place primarily attended by the privileged, is meant to be a place of culture, art, and growth. As film and cinema, it is designed to depict stories and highlight narratives that are unlike our own and challenge us to be empathetic towards groups of people who we may never get the chance to encounter first-hand. The Thanksgiving Play in fact may challenge the views of many in the audience for the very first time; people who were raised in an education system that celebrated playing dress up of the colonial era peoples and cutting out hand-drawn turkeys in arts and crafts.
As per standard Curious Theatre Company practice, the program alone is chock-full of information about the impact that indigenous peoples faced and the oppressive nature of the traditional Thanksgiving. Even a read through the 18-page booklet is indication that this play is designed to get us to think about our own role in the narrative and how we can be a resource to those around us. The discussion portion at the closing of the curtain of each performance is also an opportunity to dive in deeper with the production team and actors in order to allow space for conversation and absorption. Something rare these days; genuine, non-apologetic, and at times brutally honest conversation.
Ultimately, whether you are interested in a lesson in history, want something that is purely entertaining, or you desire a mixture of both in a swirling pool of seasonal festivities, The Thanksgiving Play can surely meet whatever it is you’re looking for. Running at Curious Theatre Company until December 15, there is still plenty of time to kick your holiday season off right with a bit of historical accuracy.