At the center of Larissa FastHorse's comedy The Thanksgiving Play are four well-meaning woke white people who do a lot of unintentional damage while trying to be good people. The Broadway play, now in previews at Second Stage's Helen Hayes Theater, officially opens April 20. It stars Chris Sullivan, D'Arcy Carden, Katie Finneran, and Scott Foley. Rachel Chavkin directs.
As Carden tells Playbill about her character, "She's not a hero. She's not a villain...Maybe that's the case for all of the characters in this show."
In the play, four educators are meeting to work on the script for the town Thanksgiving pageant. They want to honor the history of the holiday and the Native Americans in the story—except they don't have any Native Americans on the team. In their efforts to do everything right, they end up making a lot of blatantly wrong choices.
The Thanksgiving Play marks the Broadway debut for Carden, known for her television work in The Good Place and A League of Their Own. "It's such a gigantic life dream. It's almost one of those ones that's too big to actually say out loud," she says of finally getting to be on Broadway. But taking the role was a no-brainer for the Emmy nominee. "At this point in my career, in my life, I really just want to work with good people that I really like that are doing cool things. And this checks that in every way—the cast, the writer, the director, Second Stage—it was a check yes, everywhere. It was not a hard decision," enthuses Carden.
The play was also an easy sell for Finneran, a Tony winner for the 2010 revival of Promises, Promises. "When my agent called and said Rachel Chavkin wants you to do a play by Larissa FastHorse and this is the premise...don't tell anybody, but I said yes before reading the play," she says. (Sorry, Katie. We told everybody.)
For the cast of The Thanksgiving Play, the selling point is how incredibly funny the work is, while getting to deeper truths. Having FastHorse in the room throughout the entire rehearsal process has been a boon for the cast. "We get to ask her very, very sensitive questions," says Finneran. "And I get to display my ignorance. And I get to learn about Native American culture and learn about what I haven't learned. I'm so grateful for having my eyes opened. And she does it with this play in such a gorgeous, hilarious way. It's like, the medicine is so sweet."
Adds Sullivan, who plays a local history expert: "There are some very dark moments in this comedy that have been very challenging, where the entire room has to kind of stop and reassess and talk about it. But Larissa and Rachel have made it a very safe place to have those conversations, to ask questions, to make mistakes, so that we can tell this story as fully as possible." Sullivan has previously worked with Chavkin—he originated the role of Hermes in the New York Theatre Workshop Off-Broadway premiere of Hadestown in 2016.
Foley, too, credits Chavkin for creating a space in which the cast can safely explore the difficult material. "What she brings to the rehearsal room has been so freeing, and so eye opening and so safe, which is really important when you're doing a play like this. I am loving the process every day," he says. This is Foley's second Broadway show, coming from a long career in television, including Scandal, Whiskey Cavalier, and Felicity.
FastHorse says she was excited to see what Chavkin, known for her Tony-winning direction of Hadestown and her Broadway debut at the helm of The Great Comet, would do with "a one-set play," adding, fondly, "I love having her sense of theatricality and drama."
FastHorse calls the play "a comedy within a satire," she hopes the satire part that really sinks in for the audience. "I hope that at the end of the show, [audiences] are thinking about, why didn't they know some of the horrible historical things that we reveal on this show? Why was I never taught that? And I hope they feel an invitation for us all to move together and think about those things and learn about them," says FastHorse.
Chavkin also sees an opportunity for audiences to come together at The Thanksgiving Play. "There's actually a deep act of community and fellowship and camaraderie that comes in sitting with the truth and in doing so with laughter that is really profound," says Chavkin. "I can't wait for audiences to see it on all those fronts."
What Broadway musical should the characters of The Thanksgiving Play put their own inaccurate spin on? See what the cast had to say below: