5 Things to Know about Fresno City College’s ‘The Thanksgiving Play’

Fresno City College is in the opening weekend of “The Thanksgiving Play,” a savvy and cutting-edge new comedy by Native American playwright Larissa Fasthorse that tackles some of the misconceptions and untruths surrounding the turkey dinner-holiday that hundreds of millions of Americans will celebrate in a couple of weeks. Here are Five Things to Know:

1. The issues are heavy, but the treatment is light.

Pictured above: Aleah Muniz, left, and Julia Prieto in ‘The Thanksgiving Play.’ Photo: Fresno City College

In the play, four white people end up trying to write an inclusive, relevant, truthful and respectful Thanksgiving play for elementary school children. (One of the four was supposed to be Native American, but there was a bureaucratic mixup.) Can they brainstorm and then act out a narrative that corrects all the misinformation about the holiday in an age-appropriate way? Or will they erupt into open warfare? For much of the show, it’s hard to know.

Fasthorse didn’t want to write a glowering play that bashed people for all the wrong stuff they learned in school. Instead, she relies on satire to make her point.

For Aleah Muniz, who portrays the uptight drama teacher charged with directing the new project, the humor in “The Thanksgiving Play” is what gives the material its bite.

“It’s OK to laugh,” she says. “In laughter, I think we can learn. I think that’s something that people should know.”


2. Pretty much everyone gets made fun of in this one.

Actors, directors, feminists, street artists, dramaturgs, charitable foundations, coded language, trigger points, the Hollywood system, yoga fans, white people, non-white people, people who like to eat the white meat when the turkey gets carved — you name it, they get their good-natured shots from the playwright.

The basic building blocks of Thanksgiving take a pretty good shelling as well, from the “sharing” said to be prevalent between the Native Americans and the European interlopers to the menu on the table. (Stuffing? Was stuffing even around in the 16th century? Pepperidge Farms sure wasn’t.)

Perhaps the most important inaccuracy is this: “It wasn’t as friendly as pictures make it out to be,” says director Janine Christl, a Fresno City College acting professor. “We forget the harsh reality of what really happened.”

3. Things can get pretty outrageous.

Logan (played by Muniz) thought she was getting a professional Native-American actress from Los Angeles to be in the project. Instead she gets Alicia (Julia Prieto), an ethnic chameleon who can play white, Middle Eastern, Latina, Native American — whatever. Suddenly Logan’s progressive agenda is in peril. As the four participants, which include Logan’s yoga boyfriend, Jaxton (Antonio Olivera) and Caden (William MacDonald), try to work together to devise a Thanksgiving script, some of the suggestions made are downright bizarre.

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4. There are dancing turkeys.

Remember all the Thanksgiving arts-and-crafts stuff you did in school? It’s still happening today, along with the dissemination of inaccurate information about the holiday. “The Thanksgiving Play” punctuates its main storyline with vignettes based on actual videos and instructional guides posted online for teachers today. A nine-member ensemble acts out these often outrageous examples, which include cowboys and Indians, and a “12 Days of Thanksgiving” song.

5. It’s a thinker.

The satirical tone of the play shouldn’t obscure the larger point, which is that what happened to Native Americans when European settlers arrived has almost been erased from our national consciousness. Christl worked with a group called Illuminative to learn about issues from a Native American viewpoint. And Hadezbahbrisa Benally, a Native American Fresno City College student, came in and talked to the cast about sensitivity issues.

“There are a lot of mistakes that we all make,” Christl says, “and I think that is what Larissa Fasthorse has given us freedom to talk about. It’s a pretty deep world that we dive into.”

Show info

‘The Thanksgiving Play,’ continues through Nov. 23, Fresno City College Studio Theatre. Tickets are $14, $12 students and seniors.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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