The Thanksgiving Play

The other history, laughter included

DeLanna Studi's "And So We Walked" and Larissa FastHorse's "The Thanksgiving Play" showcase the indigenous side of the American story

Holidays, especially those steeped in notions of national identity, breed all manner of rituals. For instance, in The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse, getting its world premiere at Artists Repertory Theatre, the character Alicia recalls the family tradition that “came from my mom’s people.” They called it Frozen Turkey Bowling, and the ritual entailed buying an extra frozen bird and rolling it down the driveway to knock over wood blocks.

My prized, personal Thanksgiving tradition, adopted over the past decade, is simply to post the same video again to my Facebook page. It’s an unpolished little clip of the brilliant comedy trio the Apple Sisters performing Pilgrim/Indian Song, their pointed pocket history of white settlement in what came to be these United States. In just a few high-stepping stanzas, the Pilgrims move from beseeching (“Come on, chap, tell a pal: How’d you get that harvest?”) to blunt (“Hey there, Injuns. Get off your land!”), and the grandness of the theft is summed up with a brief but stirringly patriotic coda: “And that’s America!”

Viewed with even a smidgen of equitable perspective, the history of European colonization and expansion is shameful. As S.C. Gwynne puts it, merely in passing, in Empire of the Summer Moon, his book about the rise and fall of the Comanches, “(n)o tribe…ever managed to resist for very long the surge of nascent American civilization with its harquebuses and blunderbusses and muskets and eventually its lethal repeating weapons and its endless stocks of eager, land-greedy settlers, its elegant moral double standards and its complete disregard for native interests.”

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DramaWatch: Two pair and a kicker

In the cards on Portland stages this week: a pair of plays by Native American writers, Chekhov in New Jersey, improv off the Deep End

Sometimes as shows and curtains open and close, a writer flounders for a framing device. I know: Let’s play poker. “Two pair is a poker hand containing two cards of the same rank, two cards of another rank and one card of a third rank (the kicker).” This week in Portland theater deals us just such a hand.

Let’s start (as never) with two comedy-improv-mixed-use-spaces of seemingly equal rank: Siren and Deep End. Siren’s showing Rosie Rose Productions’ The Three Sisters of Weehawken, Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Chekhov adaptation plucked from Russia and plopped into a New Jersey town that we can only assume contrasts to Moscow at least as starkly as Chekhov intended when he observed: “In Moscow, you can sit in an enormous restaurant where you don’t know anybody and where nobody knows you, and you don’t feel, all the same, that you’re a stranger. And here, you know everybody and everybody knows you, and you’re a stranger … and a lonely stranger.”

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