BWW Review: Trump-Hating Conservatives Debate Right Wing Strategies in Will Arbery's HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING
"After I voted for Trump, I vomited next to my car," says a character in Will Arbery's debate-laced drama, HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING.
"After I voted for him, I went to confession," replies another.
The desire to see our current president out of office as soon as possible can be regarded as a bit of common ground between the five conservatives depicted on stage and the liberals who traditionally populate the vast majority of seats at non-profit Off-Broadway theatres. The ground most likely collapses, however, when it comes to how they regard the prospect of a Mike Pence presidency.
There's been a lot of discussion in the past several years - good, healthy discussion - about the lens through which stage characters are seen. Women characters seen through the lens of male playwrights and directors. Characters of color seen through a white lens. Comparatively little mention is made of right-wing characters being seen through a progressive lens.
As explained in his program notes, the playwright is an Obama-voting liberal, and his two-hour long, continuous action play is based on his childhood memories of listening to his parents, both Catholic conservatives teaching at a school in Wyoming, having late-night discussions with students about the political and social issues at the height of the American conversation.
So Heroes of the Fourth Turning is set in a rural Wyoming backyard. It's early morning hours and though mention is made of a spectacularly starry sky, director Dayna Taymor has lighting designer Isabella Byrd offering just a dim view of people on stage, with facial expressions barely perceivable. It's a realistic choice, but one that diminishes the connection between the audience and the characters.
It's a week after the rioting in Charlottesville and quiet, emotionally troubled Justin (Jeb Kreager), who is in his late 30s, is hosting a small gathering of friends in their 20s to celebrate their teacher and mentor Gina's (Michele Pawk) inauguration as president of Transfiguration College of Wyoming.
The guests include Kevin, who hasn't quite grown out of his frat boy phase, sharp and intelligent Teresa (Zoe Winters) and Gina's daughter Emily (Julia McDermott), severely affected by a debilitating illness.
The opening and closing sections of the play, dealing with the younger characters' relationships, are not particularly engaging, especially with the dim lighting and intentionally slow pacing. But the play definitely revs up in the middle, when Gina's arrival sparks a lively debate between her and Teresa.
As explained by Teresa before their mentor's arrival, the title refers to the observation that history is comprised of a series of generational cycles consisting of four turnings: a high, an awakening, an unraveling and a crisis. She believes the conflicts between the left and the right have placed the country in crisis turning, making a major war imminent.
Teresa sees a mobilized and energized left as a major threat to conservative America, split by conflicting attitudes towards the president and a Christian sector questioning its loyalty to the Republican Party.
Gina, who was a "Goldwater Girl" with Hillary Clinton back in 1964, defends her preference for slow, deliberate movement, as opposed to Teresa's preference for immediate action.
"Gridlock is beautiful. In the delay is deliberation and true consensus. If you just railroad something through because you want it done, that's the passion of the mob. Delaying is the structure of the republic, which is structured differently in order to offset the dangers of democracy. I believe in slowness, gridlock."
Winters and Pawk are both terrific here, each conveying their character's respect and affection for one another as the seasoned older leader tries to guide the passions of the fiery young leader.
Teresa becomes more confrontational when questioning the morality of Emily being friends with someone who favors abortion rights.
"Murder is one of the things you're not allowed to choose."
And when Emily asks to look upon pregnant women seeking abortions with empathy, Teresa will have none of it.
"Liberals are empathy addicts... Empathize with someone and suddenly you're erasing the 66 boundaries of your own conscience, suddenly you're living under the tyranny of their desires. We need to know how to think how they're thinking. From a distance."
This production is the world premiere of HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING, and it would be interesting to see how it plays in rural Wyoming, or anywhere else where the majority of playgoers would side with the opinions expressed onstage. Would the play seem authentic, or interpreted through a liberal lens?
Would a major Off-Broadway company place before a New York audience a similar play that was penned by someone who openly believed that abortion is murder and that gridlock is healthy?
Would we empathize?