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Nov 21 2016

The Furniture: Wednesday Addams Sets Thanksgiving on Fire

"The Furniture"our weekly series on Production Design.Here'sDaniel Walber

Happy Thanksgiving!In three days,Americans will gather together to cook,feast and argue.The acrimonious presidential election has launched a multitude of think pieces on the subject.Howdoyoutalktoyourrelativeswho voted differently than you?The classic stereotype of the young,liberal,usually-white urbanite going back to conservative "middle america"for turkey is certainly more fraught this year than it's ever been.Does that scenario now come with the moral obligation to speak up?

This may seem like a weird way to begin a column aboutAddams Family Values,a comedy sequel without an overt political message.But there's some Thanksgiving advice to be found in the Oscar-nominated design of legendary production designer Ken Adam (The Spy Who Loved Me) and set decorator Marvin March (Annie).Beyond the social satire of the early 1990s ("But Debbie...pastels?"),a blunt clash of historical narratives is built into the sets for Camp Chippewa...

Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) are shipped off to this WASPy sleepaway camp for the summer.It inevitably turns into their worst nightmare.The climax comes in the form of the annual pageant,directed by the exhaustingly saccharine Gary (Peter MacNicol).The subject of the play,seasonal appropriateness be damned,is the first Thanksgiving.Pugsley will play a singing turkey,while Wednesday will play Pocahontas.

It's worth noting that the real Pocahontas had nothing to do with Thanksgiving,being a Powhatan woman of Virginia who had been dead for three years by the time the Pilgrims landed.But this is only part of the nonsense history constructed by Gary,whose version of 17th century Massachusetts is about as flatly conceived as it gets.I mean that literally.The set consists of four houses,two of which are painted boards.

Still,in a way that is uncannily evocative of the flimsy ideology of America's lost "greatness,"this version of Plymouth Rock is a mix of transparent falseness and oddly distributed extravagance.On the one hand,Camp Chippewa can't afford to make all of the houses in town three-dimensional,and the turkey on the table is a lump of oddly colored paper.

Yet somehow there's enough cash for a stage that includes a prompter's box,from which Gary and his sister Becky (Christine Baranski) feed lines to the cast.

Behind them,in the audience,a lily-white audience of jacketed suburbanites smiles in pride.

It's easy to empathize with Wednesday's quest to burn it all down.She goes off-script at her entrance,refusing peace and elaborating on the crimes committed by the colonists against Native Americans.Then the rest of the kids who were cast as Wampanoags,i.e.all campers who don't resemble herrenvolk perfection,start torching the set.

It's certainly thrilling,this flamboyant destruction of false Americana.Is it also a metaphor for our own Thanksgiving pageants?Camp Chippewa is not too different from the society of 2016,split between those who see our best days in the past and those striving not to repeat our nation's colossal mistakes.

When Mike Pence went toHamilton,he may have been expecting the sort of easily digestible entertainment that Wednesday and Pugsley are subjected to in the Harmony Hut.The simple culture of giant teddy bears,floral prints and compulsory Disney classics might better resemble the "safe and special place"that Trump envisioned for the theater on Twitter.At the very least,his vision has more of a place at Camp Chippewa than it does in the thought-provoking environment fostered by truly worthy art.

We can learn from Wednesday and her arsonist ethic,taking a torch to the lies of historical pageantry.The 17th century wasn't really a time of peaceful accord between colonists and Native Americans.The 21st century isn't either,as anyone observing the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline can see.

Don't light the turkey on fire on Thursday,but if you're looking for something to do,maybe bring that up.Property damage be damned,Camp Chippewa was a better place once Wednesday burned it down.Don't let the forgetful nonsense of misguided nostalgia stand unchallenged.Say something.

previously on The Furniture

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Reader Comments (10)

Joan Cusack as Debbie slays and shouldve been oscar nominated...i know its not relevant to the topic but had to say :-)

November 21,2016 | Unregistered CommenterMJ

I love everything about this movie,and have always been in love with the ridiculous Thanksgiving pageant scene.Even when this came out (when I was a kid),I was totally with Wednesday in her fight for justice.I also love how ridiculously overdesigned the set and props are - it feels perfectly Camp Chippewa.And the Harmony Hut!!Oh how I love it so.It's so perfectly cheerfully off-putting,like rainbow cats threw up all over it.

November 21,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Love this--really thoughtful write-up!

November 21,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Don't forget Ricci's Thanksgiving prayer scene in The Ice Storm.

November 21,2016 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

MJ -- agreed.

November 21,2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Daniel,thank you for your post.
I always thought The Trump Family was a real life Addams Family type: strange,weird,out of place like Donald Trump.Melania like Morticia with a mix of sexyness/peculiarity.
By the way,Morticia's birth name is Morticia Frump...
Like the Addams,their uncommon way only accepted because of their richness.And now the new status acquired.Your post just confused me!The Trumps are not the Addams?!
When I eat the turkey I'll think of you.8;) 3

November 21,2016 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly S

I love that Thanksgiving scene.Wednesday finally gets her revenge and kills everyone.

November 21,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Isn't Baranski his wife in this?

November 21,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Brilliant.And the movie is,too

November 22,2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

It isn't Thanksgiving without Wednesday Addams.

November 22,2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

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