© 2024 WFAE

Mailing Address:
8801 J.M. Keynes Dr. Ste. 91
Charlotte NC 28262
Tax ID: 56-1803808
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Heading into 2024 race, a Charlotte playwright explores how politics — and Trump — divide families

From left to right: Michelle Strom as Brittany, Tom Ollis as Harry West, Matt Howie as Eric and Renee West as Mom in "Thanksgiving: 2016" presented by Charlotte's Off Broadway.
Hot Mess Productions
From left to right: Michelle Strom as Brittany, Tom Ollis as Harry West, Matt Howie as Eric and Renee West as Mom in "Thanksgiving: 2016" presented by Charlotte's Off Broadway.

Stop and think for a moment about how you felt after the election of 2016.

Many people were in shock, tempers were up, and Thanksgiving was just two weeks away.

That's the setting of the new play, "Thanksgiving: 2016," presented by Charlotte's Off Broadway, in which a house divided by politics at dinner does not stand.

The dramatic comedy is written and directed by Elaine Alexander. She said she drew from her own experiences growing up on a farm in North Carolina, where she still meets her family for Thanksgiving every year.

"My immediate family is liberal, but my cousins, uncles, so forth on the farm are conservatives. They're Trump voters, and so my family has to be very careful as liberals, not to get into it with my conservative relatives, because we'd rather keep the peace and keep the good vibes going and discuss who makes the best sweet potato pie and cook a turkey and all of that," she said.

The family in her play also tries to keep the peace, but inevitably, tensions heat up alongside the turkey.

The father, Harry, loves CNN. He canvassed for Hillary. He's having a hard time processing Trump's win, and as he learns his family isn't entirely in lockstep politically, he becomes almost wounded and cracks emerge and widen.

Alexander said the family is based in part on her own, and what she saw in the weeks after the 2016 election.

"People were losing friendships. People were breaking up. Friends, family, people blocking each other on Facebook, never speaking to each other, sisters and brothers alienated from each other over Trump," she said.

Thanksgiving: 2016
Can a house — or a family — divided by politics stand, even just around the Thanksgiving table?
From left to right: Michelle Strom as Brittany, Tom Ollis as Harry West, Matt Howie as Eric and Renee West as Mom in "Thanksgiving: 2016" presented by Charlotte's Off Broadway.

Nick de la Canal: And I think a lot of people had similar experiences after the 2016 and 2020 elections. I'm wondering if you had conversations with the cast about that as you were pulling this together?

Elaine Alexander: Yeah! Everybody had stories about their reaction to Trump winning. Most of us never thought it would happen, and they talked about people who went into depressions, people who just had to shut down social media, and so yeah it spurred a lot of discussion as we began to rehearse the play about what Trump's win against Hillary Clinton meant.

De la Canal: One of the themes that seems to come up, at least for me seeing this show, is how politics can be a poison in relationships — and not just in the most obvious way where there's a fundamental disagreement over some issue, but also if a person becomes so consumed by politics, they stop seeing other people as people.

Harry West (Heard in the show): It's like some sci-fi movie where the aliens have taken over people's bodies. Oh, they look like real people, they sound like real people, but they're not real people!

De la Canal: Was that something you were thinking about as you wrote and directed this?

Alexander: Yeah. What Harry is referencing is that he does not understand how people, as a liberal, can vote for Trump, because he see Trump as a very divisive, dangerous con man. Those are his words, and he just could not understand how people that he's close to could even think about it, and so he doesn't recognize his world anymore.

And Trump has changed America, I think, in a very fundamental way, in that we have become so politicized that we don't see each other as people anymore. We see each other by their political positions, and so we really can't get past each other's political ideologies and just see each other as people who have other interests and other attributes, and one of the takeaways of the play is that we need to get past that.

De la Canal: At the same time, you know, elections have very real world consequences, so if you're a politically minded person who really cares, like how do you navigate that?

Alexander: Yeah I understand that, and I'm somebody who really cares, and that's probably one of the reasons why I wrote the play, is that I really do care. But I would argue that Harry goes about it completely the wrong way. You cannot browbeat someone into agreeing with you, and if you want to create the kind of change you want to see in the world, it begins with a conversation. It begins with listening, rather than just simply trying to aggressively convince the other side.

De la Canal: I'm curious how writing and directing this show may have changed your own outlook on things. You know, we're headed into our third election with Donald Trump in the race, so has this show given you a new perspective or even a reminder that you'll take into this election year, maybe even the next time you're back with your family this coming November?

Alexander: Well, if I want to keep it peaceful, I will not be discussing politics, I will tell you that much. But I think, again, we have to see each other as people, and we have to have a conversation, and we have to listen to their perspective, and maybe we'll gain some insight. So that's what I would argue, is that as liberals and as conservatives, as Republicans, as Democrats, we have to not isolate each other into our own little tribes.

We have to mingle and talk and try to better understand each other, because walling ourselves off in our own little ideological groups is not going to help advance our cause or our candidate.

"Thanksgiving: 2016" runs Jan. 4 - 7 at the VAPA Center in uptown Charlotte. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.

Arts & Culture President Trump
Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal