In her new work, The Thanksgiving Play, Larissa FastHorse puts four well-intentioned and ill-equipped white people into a classroom. They are tasked with writing a more culturally sensitive play about Thanksgiving that they will stage for their elementary school students. The premise is genius as is almost everything about this production.  

We watch these four characters make mistake after mistake after mistake as they try to find the right approach, plot or words to form their play.  We laugh and cringe at their progressively worse ideas each and every time.

The play is satire and if you see it – as I did  – you will find yourself laughing hysterically and then questioning whether it was ok for you to laugh at all.

But that is the point of satire. It is there not just to make us laugh but also to make us think. The Thanksgiving Play is equally adept at doing both. 

After the play, it had me questioning the origins of Thanksgiving and my perspective on our early history as a country. It sent me googling to learn more about the play and its playwright. 

In one interview, FastHorse tells how difficult it can be working with well-meaning liberal people in theatre, saying “They’re so scared of making a mistake that it paralyzes them into doing nothing.”  She hopes the takeaway for her play is “let’s just all make the mistake together.” Saying that at least gives us somewhere to go.

As the characters in the play demonstrate as they twist themselves in knots with almost everything they say, do or think , fear of doing something wrong can often be what holds us back from doing something right. When we make a mistake alone, we can be reprimanded, shamed, and punished. The primary lesson is not to learn from the mistake but to avoid making a similar one at all costs.  

A mistake is defined as “a wrong action or statement proceeding from faulty judgment, inadequate knowledge, or inattention.” If we don’t talk about our mistakes or even laugh at ourselves for making them, how are we to improve our judgment, increase our knowledge and pay more close attention regarding the issues we care about.

It can be hard for us as individuals, communities or as a country to discuss our mistakes – particularly those that are most egregious and obvious. But it is essential we do so if we hope to grow.

Which brings us back to the power of art and theater specifically.  What we see on stage  can also serve as a mirror. The mistakes we laugh at others making are the ones we realize we also commit. We experience it collectively and talk about what we just felt and thought immediately after – as I did with my wife.  We take what we thought and felt and share it with others – as I have with both friends and students and as I’m doing now in writing this. 

I am so grateful for seeing this play and hope it receives the audience it deserves. Creations like this spark dialogue and change – not because they elevate the idealistic or righteous but because they lay bare the messy, even ridiculous, mistakes that are often necessary to realize  progress.

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