Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Bright Star
The basic story is that a high school drama teacher has received a grant to write a Thanksgiving pageant or play from the Native American point of view. Joining her are her boyfriend, a professional actress from Los Angeles, and a grammar school history teacher, each with his or her own unique prospective. It's sort of a Waiting for Guffman updated. The play manages to examine political correctness taken to mind numbing levels. Its strengths are that it is at times screamingly funny, quite cheeky in its tone and with a point of view uniquely its own. The weakness is that the characters never give the audience a chance to honestly care about them, and two of them are drawn so incisively of this time that I think the play will be seriously dated in a mere five years or so and will be pretty much unproduceable.
The Urbanite Theatre production of The Thanksgiving Play provides another example of the superior acting audiences can expect from this company. Genevieve Simon plays Logan, the high school drama teacher and leader of the project, although she insists that the final product will be a group effort. She is a feminist, model second decade of the 21st century. Paul Michael Thomson is her street performer, somewhat hippy, attuned to Logan's feminism, boyfriend, Jaxton. With his unkempt hair and lack of middle class grooming, he perfectly fits the part. Clare Lopez is Alicia, living off her voluptuous looks as an actress. She proclaims that she is content just to be an actress and not think about much of anything. If her character evolves at all, she will end up as a trophy wife. Lopez' is completely on point for the character as written. Eric Leonard as Caden, is a teddy bear, claiming to be a straight white man, just the sort of person who ends up teaching grade schoolers. Although each of the four actors is excellent in his or her part, it is as an ensemble that they shoot sparks.
Clearly, director Larissa Lury is a major plus, not only does she get fine individual and ensemble performances from her cast, but also sets the pace well, so the piece doesn't become overly frantic in its zaniest moments. On the technical side, the scenic design by Frank Chavez is zippy yet institutional (a high school classroom), costume design by Dee Sullivan helps the audience understand the characters, Joseph P. Oshry's lighting is, as always, highly professional, Rew Tippen's sound design works well, and Steve Patmagrian's props are highly effective. India Marie Paul's video, with local celebrities ruminating on various questions around the subject of this uniquely American holiday, adds emotional depth.
Urbanite Theatre is currently in its fifth season, which is relatively young for a theater company. Many are still struggling to find footing and an identifiable profile. This company entered with a bang in 2015, with three very strong productions as a calling card. Each season I see new growth. The Thanksgiving Play is an unusual comedy from a company that I think of in terms of cutting-edge subjects, and there is no doubt in my mind that their audience will recognize Urbanite's sensibility. It is another very strong production from this company, now a valued part of Sarasota's theater scene.
The Thanksgiving Play rus through December 15, 2019, at Urbanite Theatre, 1487 2nd St., Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, visit www.urbanitetheatre.com.