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  • Stephanie Kulke

Hurts So Good

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling smug because you live in a “Blue State,” Larissa

FastHorse’s satirical “The Thanksgiving Play” has arrived in Chicago to take you down a peg.

Focused on four amateur thespians attempting to devise a historically accurate, culturally

sensitive school play about the first Thanksgiving, the Steppenwolf preview audience tittered

throughout the 90-minute skewering of white progressive values.

FastHorse cleverly distances her audience from a too on-the-nose critique by inventing a

quartet of inspired comedic characters. Think “Waiting for Guffman” brought to life by top-shelf

actors including Steppenwolf ensemble members Tim Hopper (as Caden the gung-ho historian

and aspiring playwright) and Audrey Francis (as Logan, the reform-minded teaching artist).

Rounding out the cast are Nate Santana (as Jaxton, a yogi and performance artist) and Paloma

Nozicka (having a field day as Alicia the guest actor from LA). Jess McLeod directs the


Chicago theatre goers may recall the DEI statements published by many theaters (and other

industries) following George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Among their commonly stated goals were

stepping up inclusion efforts around cultural competency, hiring practices, transparent

compensation, and staff and board representation.

FastHorse mines this explosive material for laughs by looking under the hood of these well-

drawn, well-meaning characters who are effortfully attempting to make progress toward a more

just society -- one educational production at a time.

The desperate Logan – whose teaching job is on shaky ground after a parent petition to fire her

gathers more than 300 names – is under pressure to make a success of the directing project at

hand. She has hedged her bets with a grant that allows her to hire a professional to both star in

the show and contribute an Indigenous viewpoint during its development. Enter the ambitious

and broadly marketable Alicia, who is game to share her family’s traditions to inform the


The educator-thespians soon find getting authentic representation at the Thanksgiving table is

harder than expected.

The stakes and the insanity ratchet up as the team works under a deadline to produce a script

that will satisfy administrators as well as their own unwavering commitment to a culturally

sensitive, historically accurate and age-appropriate play.

Watching a quartet of top-shelf professional actors playing cringe-worthy amateur actors is a

pretty neat distancing trick employed by FastHorse. In fact, it is so much fun watching the

impending train wreck of their play within a play, you might not even notice your subconscious

whispering to you as mine did while watching the antics of Caden, Logan, Jaxton, and Alicia,

“That is so me!” And then a short time later, peering through your fingers thinking, “But I’d never

to that!”

Fellow white theatergoers, if one must swallow a bitter pill – this is a pleasurable way to get it


The Chicago premiere of “The Thanksgiving Play” runs Tuesdays through Sundays at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 North Halsted Street in Chicago  now through June 2, 2024. For tickets and information go to

  For more reviews go to

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