Tampa Bay’s theater scene has evolved quite a bit over the past few decades. More and more companies are taking on socially conscious and complicated plays we wouldn’t be comfortable seeing with the elders who took us to the Showboat Dinner Theater to see Hello, Dolly!
In tandem with other forward-thinking companies -- such as Stageworks, Heather, Tampa Repertory, Powerstories, and Lab Theater Project in Tampa and American Stage and freeFall in St. Petersburg -- Jobsite Theater has played a major role on flipping the script on how we enjoy plays in Tampa Bay.
For more than two decades Tampa Bay theatergoers have been going to the latest Jobsite play and discussing it over drinks at The Hub, a downtown pastime. From the company’s rock musicals to their meaty dramas and wacky satires, Jobsite has consistently challenged us to take a hard look at ourselves and laugh at a wide assortment of messy, complicated experiences.
This year’s season opener follows in Jobsite’s tradition of being untraditional and presenting thought-provoking entertainment. The Thanksgiving Play by Native American playwright Larissa Fasthorse spoofs the climate of today’s political correctness while calling attention to America’s troubled history.
The comedy follows Logan (Caitlin Eason), a drama teacher hoping to stage the best and most culturally correct elementary school Thanksgiving pageant that anyone has seen, and, somehow, one that will honor Native American Heritage Month, too. Logan’s boyfriend, Jaxton (Giles), an actor into yoga and veganism and Caden (Adam Workman), a third-grade teacher and would-be playwright, who suggests that Logan open the Thanksgiving play with a scene set 4,000 years ago, add to her hysteria.
Caitlin Eason (Logan) and Dana Mauro (Alicia) lampoon political correctness in Larissa FastHorse's The Thanksgiving Play.
Concerned that the cast is too white, Logan hires an all-purpose, bubbly “ethnic” actress named Alicia (Dana Mauro), who once played Jasmine in Aladdin.
While it all sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch, Jobsite Producing Artistic Director David Jenkins, assures 83 Degrees Media
that there is another layer to this hyper-politically correct farce. ”There is a lot of pain underneath the surface of the subject matter” in The Thanksgiving Play,” he says.
“We're so honored to be the first company in Florida to produce this scathing satire,” he adds. “FastHorse assures us that — even when confronted with uncomfortable truths in her script -- ‘it's OK to laugh.’”
The play works, according to Jenkins, because the laughter comes at the expense of those who perhaps need the ridicule the most right now -- liberal, ‘woke,’ mostly white folks with privilege.
“Like myself,” he adds self-deprecatingly. “We have a very long way to go to reconcile our past. In some ways, my laughter at this show is laughter at myself and serves as a reminder of how and where I can do better, be better. Not just talk better. We have enough talk. I'm really hoping this show can bring folks together and provide a unique place to have this discussion -- and, most importantly, share in this laughter.”
Kari Goetz, The Thanksgiving Play’s Director and Jobsite veteran, says it’s one of the most daunting plays she’s directed.
“I tend to gravitate toward complex comedies and/or female-driven shows. This is both,” she adds. “Written by a strong Native American woman, Fasthorse's script is so nuanced and so layered and so damned whip-smart that to try to give each statement its moment is both thrilling and terrifying. There is no way we can convey all the problematic issues she introduces.”
Goetz gives as an example a scene in the beginning of the play. when the teaching artists are sharing the schools where they have performed: Washington Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Jefferson High.
“Think about just that statement,” the director urges. “We name our schools after old white men. We don't even think about it. I have no idea how to draw attention to something so institutionally and universally accepted and acceptable to white ears. It's just what we've come to expect.”
Along with Fasthorse’s script, the cast adds that ‘zazz' that makes the show work.
"I love this cast! When I read the script, all I could see was Giles Davies in the role of Jaxton,'' Goetz says. "Thank goddess he said yes. He's usually known for his thoughtful performances, his absolute rock-solid Shakespearian turns and his ability to transfix an audience. In this case? I wanted him to play a dude who does yoga and sometimes acts. The character has the emotional depth of an ashtray but considers himself 'enlightened' -- it's absolute anathema to everything Giles has played at Jobsite and he is absolutely killing it.''
Giles Davies (Jaxton), Adam Workman (Caden), and Dana Mauro (Alicia) bring the funny in The Thanksgiving Play.
Also on stage: “Caitlin Eason is a beloved Jobsite actor and she's just about as white as she can be -- which is perfect for Logan,” Goetz says. “She's just so earnest and so sweet and that brings a lot of the casual racism that the character invokes -- all subversive laughs. Logan is too woke to call a manager, but she's totally going to send the regional office an email when she gets home. Caitlin isn't that person at all, but she sure will fool you when you watch her in this role.”
Adam Workman is like Colgate Toothpaste, Goetz adds. “He brings extreme whiteness. I hadn't had the chance to work with Adam before, but I had seen him on stage and he crushed the audition. He brings academic truth to the character of Caden and it is hysterical. He's got condescending mansplain on lock, and he makes me giggle every night.”
Making her Jobsite debut, Dana Mauro impressed Goetz from the start. “Her comedic instincts are bang-on and her take on Alicia, the actress from L.A., is a real delight. I expect we will see a lot of her on local stages in the coming years.”
“The four, along with Matthew Ray as stage manager,” Goetz effused, “have really been fearless in bringing some really difficult things to the stage and then ruthlessly making fun of it and each other and themselves. It's been the best process I can remember in a long time.”
Jobsite Theater’s production of The Thanksgiving Play continues its run at the Straz Center through Nov. 17. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit Jobsite's website.