The four characters in The Thanksgiving Play mean well, but each is bound by something – from ineptitude to narcissism, from hyper-intelligence and an overabundance of sensitivity to just plain dumbness – that keeps them from reaching their collective goal.
The quartet has come together to create a play for elementary school children for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. It’s Native American Heritage Month, and they’ve received a grant that specifically says they need to be faithful to the facts as known.
Therein lies the rub: What, exactly, is the truth? And how do you make it entertaining for third-graders?
Written by Native American Larissa FastHorse, a member of the Lakota Nation, The Thanksgiving Play (opening tonight at Jobsite Theater) gives these four people – each a classic Caucasian stereotype – enough rope to hang themselves with political correctness. It’s a wild, unpredictable, hilarious ride through the valley of the shadow of white privilege.
Director Kari Goetz says the stage satire “holds a mirror” to the notion of extreme PC-ism. “It’s less about a skewering of political correctness, per se,” she explains, “and more about how that has been co-opted by white people as sort of an armor: ‘No, I’m cool, I’m woke, I’m down with everything.’ And being truly honest with themselves about the issues, and what we can do about racial inequality, and give the floor to voices that aren’t traditionally heard.”
Goetz has been a Jobsite artistic associate, on the lookout for new shows to bring to the table, directing and producing and performing every so often, since 2002. Artistic director David Jenkins brought The Thanksgiving Play to her attention. “David sent it to me, and by Page 5 I texted him back that I was on board,” she says, “that I would direct it.”
Drawn by “the level of complexities Larissa has put in this show,” Goetz – once she stopped laughing – got down to the business of casting and creating.
“Satire is really where I’m the happiest,” she says. “I like intellectual comedy – and I don’t mean ‘I like smart comedy,’ that’s different, I like comedy you have to think about. This satire is so sharp in this piece. You have to think about everything you say. There’s going to be aspects to this show that I will never be able to put a proper parentheses on. There’s so much satire to be mined there, you’ll never be able to bracket it.”
Every time she re-visited the dialogue during the rehearsal process, she explains, she discovered another layer. “Notice,” Goetz says, “how these artistic educators have taught or performed at Washington Elementary, Lincoln Elementary and Jefferson High School. How in the world do you brag at the fact that white ears don’t even hear that all of our institutions are named after old, dead white men? And some of them have openly committed atrocities against Native Americans.”
As a longtime member of the universal theatrical community, she got the joke in FastHorse’s depiction of the desperately-driven director character, who tries ever-so-hard to balance the solemnity of her subject matter with her percolating creative impulses. And a roomful of well-intentioned idiots.
“I have to say,” Goetz laughs, “there are several cringe-worthy things that Logan (the director) says onstage that have actually come out of my mouth. I’ve been that person.”
There are, she continues, two “games being played” in The Thanksgiving Play: “The razor-sharp satire of perception of race, and the white liberal guilt in approach to that. And then there’s this glorious baseball of the play-within-the-play, that Waiting For Guffman vibe that you can so easily channel in this piece.”
Kari Goetz is the VP of External Relations for the Florida Aquarium, a job that comes with a lot of responsibilities, and a gig that she dearly loves. She’s not a native Floridian, exactly, but she grew up in Fort Myers, got a BFA in Theater Performance from the University of Florida, and an MA in Communication from USF.
While she was attending UF in the mid 1990s, Goetz was concurrently shooting the teen soap opera Emerald Cove in Orlando and Cocoa Beach. The drama was serialized in episodes of The New Mickey Mouse Club on the Disney Channel.
Emerald Cove fans, if you’re interested, she played plucky Susie Winters, part of the gang of kids around the “rock band” High Density. There are Emerald Cove fans, aren’t there?
Her career took Goetz to California, where (among other things) she co-founded the Hollywood chapter of the Second City comedy organization.
Back in the Sunshine State, she spent six years as the director of marketing for Tampa International Airport prior to signing on with the Florida Aquarium.
Always, there was theater. She re-united with Jenkins, a pal from her days in Gainesville, and connected with Jobsite. These days, she’s also a member of the board of Stageworks, another professional theater in Tampa.
One of the funniest recurring bits in The Thanksgiving Play is the looming, immovable presence of the educational grant director Logan and her cast have received for their school production. FastHorse has very cleverly pointed out the dichotomy between the theatrical rock (creative freedom) and hard place (money that sometimes comes with a stifling proviso).
“Grants,” sighs Goetz. “They’re the golden handcuffs that unfortunately drive us, and they often dictate our work and the tone of our work. And I think Larissa does a really good job of bringing up that necessary evil in the artistic world as well.
“But if it weren’t for Logan going out and getting all these grants, as ridiculous as it is, there probably wouldn’t have been a … well, whatever it is they intend to do when they make this show.”
More info, and tickets, here.