Playwrights Horizons to Premiere HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING
Playwrights Horizons continues its 2019/20 season of works from groundbreaking playwrights pushing their singular styles to new heights with Heroes of the Fourth Turning, written by Will Arbery (Plano, Evanston Salt Costs Climbing) and directed by Danya Taymor ("Daddy," Pass Over).
In Heroes of the Fourth Turning, four young conservatives have gathered at a backyard after-party in rural Wyoming. One week following the Charlottesville riot, and two days before the 2017 solar eclipse, they've returned home to toast their mentor Gina, newly inducted as the first female president of a tiny Catholic college. But as their reunion spirals into spiritual chaos and clashing generational politics, it becomes less a celebration than a vicious fight to be understood.
Will Arbery's haunting play offers disarming clarity, speaking to the heart of a country at war with itself. The play makes its world premiere at the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 W 42nd St), September 13.
The production features Jeb Kreager (Broadway: Oslo; TV: "The Punisher," "One Dollar") as Justin, Julia McDermott (International: Epiphany; Regional: Hay Fever, The Cherry Orchard) as Emily, Michele Pawk (Playwrights: A Small Fire, Prayer for My Enemy; Broadway: Beautiful, Hairspray) as Gina, Zoë Winters (Off-Broadway: White Noise, Small Mouth Sounds, Red Speedo, An Octoroon) as Teresa, and John Zdrojeski (Off-Broadway: Monster; Regional: Romeo and Juliet; TV: "Billions") as Kevin.
The creative team includes Laura Jellinek (Scenic Designer),Sarafina Bush (Costume Designer), Isabella Byrd (Lighting Designer), Justin Ellington (Sound Designer), J. David Brimmer (Fight Director), and Jenny Kennedy (Stage Manager).
Will Arbery most recently received critical acclaim for the Clubbed Thumb production of Plano, which Time Out praised for "managing to bend how you perceive reality beyond the proscenium." In that "wonderfully unsettling...fiercely smart contemporary dream play" that "revealed all sorts of disturbing social truths" (New York Magazine), Arbery fast-forwarded time, and characters seemed to slip through their lives.
Arbery takes an equally unnerving and revelatory-yet notably opposite-approach to time and place in Heroes of the Fourth Turning, setting the entirety of the play in real time in one festering late-night hang in a meticulously studied political reality. Arbery understands, and skillfully twists, the fact that in a country of polar interests and discourses, the "other side" can feel just as alien as any dreamscape, and the ever-widening space between both can seem like a menacing void. Characters are frighteningly good at positing their political ideals, yet some are also internally conflicted, self-doubting, wondering how far they can veer-in any casual conversation among peers-from the orthodoxies of their given or chosen side without social repercussions.
Arbery is particularly familiar with the palpable divide between American ideological realms. Arbery grew up in a family of conservative Catholic professors, living in the midst of small Catholic colleges, but as an adult underwent the "long journey" away from the views he was given. "I feel I've had this play in me from the time I was born," he says. His writing process for Heroes of the Fourth Turning came both from personal recollection and-now removed from that world-meticulous research into what, he explains "was supposed to have been [his] inheritance."
Arbery was inspired by, and describes "working deliberately to think about this play in conversation with" Claudia Rankine's Racial Imaginary Institute, a cultural laboratory whose first issue was On Whiteness. It encouraged artists to examine and underscore the fallacy of whiteness as neutral-to, as Arbery describes, "put it under the magnifying glass and watch it sweat."
He says, "The provocation of the play is that it needs to be an accurate representation of the conversations that conservatives might have when liberals aren't present. I was witness to conversations like the ones in the play over and over again from the time I was a child. Really passionate, really religious, really smart conservative people hashing it out late into the night, drinking and smoking. I haven't shared much of my work with my parents, but I went back to Wyoming in March and showed them the play; this was the first where I told them, 'I would like you to read this.' It was really fascinating: they'd been worried about my soul and my debt and my rocky path in New York, like parents worried about their son, but they were sort of taken aback by how closely I'd been listening to their work. I think it both moved them and unsettled them. They had some suggestions for how to go deeper and make it even more accurate. That was really helpful. I don't want the play to feel like propaganda for conservatism, far from it, but I do need the representation to be correct. However the play makes my parents feel, they can't watch it and say 'this is incorrect.'"
The play highlights the education of and intellectualism weaponized by conservatives. Citing Jane Mayer's Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Arbery notes the vast yet unseen influence of billionaires funding academic institutions and think tanks that spread intellectually rigorous far-right ideologies. "After the New Deal and during the Civil Rights Movement, the conservative movement created a really formidable intellectual educational force in this country that is really shielded from us," says Arbery. "It's very smart and far-reaching. My parents are very smart, the students they teach are extremely smart, and if we want to move forward in this country, one can't assume that every conservative is just stupid because it's simply not true; it's scarily not true. Our play is doing this tricky balancing act of exposing the heart of those formidable principles from within themselves, rather than providing liberal commentary from outside."
Says Taymor, "This play is so much about how education can arm people. These characters have all learned how to form their thoughts together, and it's how they think that we're looking to expose with as much blinding clarity as we can. What we're trying to do for the audience is reveal an underbelly, this hidden thing that does exist, and the transgression of the play is that it doesn't tell the audience what to feel or think about what they've experienced, to let them wrestle with the beast on their own."
Will Arbery is the 2019/20 Tow Playwright-in-Residence at Playwrights Horizons. The Tow Foundation, established in 1988 by Leonard and Claire Tow, funds projects that offer transformative experiences to individuals and create collaborative ventures in fields where they see opportunities for breakthroughs, reform, and benefits for underserved populations. Investments focus on the support of innovative programs and system reform in the fields of juvenile and criminal justice, medicine, higher education, and culture. For more information, visit www.towfoundation.org.
Heroes of the Fourth Turning runs from Friday, September 13 through Sunday, October 27. For a full schedule, visit phnyc.org.