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A Closer Look: Larissa FastHorse

Playwrights’ Corner

Headshot of Larissa FastHorse
The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse, will be featured in a public reading at The Lark on November 4, as part of Playwrights' Week 2017. It is a story about four people attempting to devise a politically correct play for the local schools to celebrate both Thanksgiving and Native American Month. In order to be as respectful and accurate as possible, the three white actors defer to the only Native American in the room for guidance. Below, fellow Playwrights' Week writer, Sam Chanse, interviews Larissa about representation, being a playwright in Los Angeles, and her future projects.

SAM CHANSE: The play is really funny and super smart about exploring some really thorny and not-so-funny questions around representation and which voices are telling the stories (or not) — it’s a brilliant way of asking and dramatizing some of these questions. As a comedy, there’s a lot of violence and tragedy wrapped up in it — in the history behind the holiday and in some of the alternate Thanksgiving Play scenes — there’s also a violence implied in the problem of absence and silence. How do you think about the relationship between comedy and tragedy in your writing — in this play or in general?

Most of my plays have Indigenous themes or issues in them, and the truth is that this current country was built on violence and many people continue to live in actual violence or have normalized it so deeply that they aren’t affected by the pain others experience. Our culture has not fully acknowledged those facts. This play juxtaposes history and this exact moment to show how little things have changed but clearly through satire. I’m a big fan of dark humor and sarcasm. I blame my parents for showing me a lot of British TV as a child. 

SC: The play is set in "a high school drama room anywhere but the Los Angeles area.” Why anywhere but LA?

I grew up in South Dakota. I only knew Los Angeles from movies and TV so it had this perfectly lit, mythological quality to it in my mind. Then I moved there and was deeply disappointed for a long time. Not that I necessarily wanted LA to look like a movie but because I’d been sold a crafted fantasy that didn’t exist. LA actually is such a cool and unique place but it took me a while to find that because it is nothing like the movies. I see people move there and fight against that disappointment. They work so hard to contort their lives to keep the fantasy alive and show they are part of it. It’s beautifully tragic and, let’s be honest, really, really funny. So dramatically it was more valuable to have the play set outside of Los Angeles. That city sets pop culture for all of us and affects us in ways we don’t even realize. It’s funnier to see that influence in a displaced setting. 

SC: Could you talk about another play you're writing, or want to write?

LF: My next production is a little play I dig called Cow Pie Bingo with AlterTheater in San Francisco. It’s a comedy in a different way, much softer edges. It’s about the place I grew up (which I love) and people who are living a simple life of passion and truth. And cows, who are my second favorite animal after dogs. They are just so peaceful and in the moment and without sarcasm at all. We could all use a little more of that. 

After that I have a couple more commissions to finish out, then I’m not sure where I am going next. I dig comedy. I have one really dark commission to write this year so I think I’m gonna need to find some balance.  But I’m also working on a touring adaptation of my immersive play, Urban Rez.  I LOVED creating an immersive world so maybe I can talk someone into letting me do an immersive comedy. That would be loads of fun.

SC: You're (I think) based in the LA-area, but I know you've worked all over. How do you experience the LA theater community in comparison to some other cities/areas you've worked in?

LF: Yes, I’m in Santa Monica which is only an important distinction if you live in Santa Monica. We have a large and vibrant theater community in the Los Angeles area. I am rarely produced there and I’m not sure why, but that seems to be changing lately.  However through different writer groups I’ve felt like it is my creative home for a long time. I work all over the country but I create in LA.  However I’m so fortunate to have theater homes all over the country. I go to the Bay Area or the Twin Cities or several other towns and have an instant theater family that makes me feel so welcome. I spend half my life traveling and these many theater homes make that possible for me.

Join us at The Lark for a reading of Larissa FastHorse's THE THANKSGIVING PLAY on November 4 at 3pm, part of Playwrights' Week 2017. Click here to RSVP for your FREE ticket!