(Cover Photo: The CAST of SpeakEasy Stage Company's "HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING," by Will Arbery, now playing in Boston, MA. through October 8, 2022. Photo by Nile Scott Studios)
By Kevin T. Baldwin
"Catholicism is more than a religion - it is a political power."
- Oliver Cromwell
Written By Will Arbery
Directed By Marianna Bassham
Cast Includes: Dayna Cousins, Jesse Hinson, Nathan Malin, Karen MacDonald, Elise Piliponis
September 9, 2022 through October 8, 2022
(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)
(Photo: Jesse Hinson and Nathan Malin in a scene from "HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING," now playing at SpeakEasy Stage Company in Boston until October 8, 2022. Photo by Nile Scott Studios)
SpeakEasy Stage Company's "HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING" by playwright Will Arbery is an intriguing experiment in observing behavior that simultaneously angers and fascinates anyone with a liberal viewpoint.
For two plus hours, one simply cannot take eyes off of the four young Catholic conservative adults who have reunited for an event at “The Transfiguration College of Wyoming” as they discuss many topics important to their conservative beliefs.
Mere days after the highly publicized Charlottesville riots, the reunion takes place just before a solar eclipse, where the small, remote college is situated in the “path of totality.”
The name "Trump" doesn't even get mentioned during the show's first hour. Yet, long before the name comes up, some of the concepts, Catholic and/or conservative, discussed will not make any sense to a number of people.
For others, though, it will seem all too familiar...and perhaps all too frighteningly so.
If Arbery's characters also seem all too familiar, it may be in light of the fact they come from Arbery's personal perspective as his parents teach at a real college (and where his father is president) on which the college in the play is based.
The most fascinating aspect of "HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING" is that it does not seek to bash conservative beliefs or hyperbole from a strictly left-wing liberal bias.
No, it accomplishes virtually the exact same objective from a totally right-wing, Christian conservative bias.
Yet, under the considered, even-handed direction of Marianna Bassham, there is a dichotomy to the piece in that: Observers can be stunned at some of the more repugnant concepts put forth yet, at the same time, can be objective about...even sympathetic toward...how these individuals, these young persons, might have come to believe what they believe.
They are now at a point in their lives where some have come to question some of those beliefs.
Most conflicted about his life teachings is young Kevin (Nathan Malin) who is quite drunk throughout most of the story but is struggling emotionally with intensely sobering questions about how he was educated and what he is "expected" to believe.
Malin gives a riveting, sympathetic performance as the inebriated and inconsolable Kevin.
Less sympathetic is the attractive but highly combative young Teresa (Dayna Cousins) who displays an inner ugliness very quickly.
Teresa is 100 percent in on "Trumpism" and is about as far right as a Catholic conservative could possibly seem to any liberal.
Cousins is thoroughly convincing as antagonistic, argumentative "debater" Teresa who, mere minutes into her first appearance, seems to make just about every other conservative on stage totally uncomfortable.
(Photo: Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins and Karen MacDonald in a scene from "HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING," now playing in Boston at SpeakEasy Stage Company until October 8, 2022. Photo by Nile Scott Studios)
The hardest hit recipient of Teresa's relentless onslaught of combative rhetoric is Emily (Elise Piliponis) who struggles with a debilitating physical illness yet seeks no pity or special treatment from anyone on stage and certainly receives none from Teresa.
Emily seeks to serve as a kind of "bridge," in the varied discussions, attempting to lessen the divide between conservative and liberal perspectives - and Teresa will have none of it.
Jesse Hinson as Justin effortlessly portrays a deeply troubled spirit -a man attempting to fill a void of conscience, a man with extreme religious beliefs, and a belief that the ultimate war between good and evil is fast approaching, all which seemingly manifests into extremely bizarre fantasies...or are they fantasies?
Later in the story (and far too late in the story) emerges the reason for the reunion, a beloved instructor, Gina (Karen MacDonald) who has just become the new president of the school.
The emergence of MacDonald 's character is an absolute welcome and it is a pity Gina was not on sooner to provide some much needed sanity to many of the discussions.
That is not to say that Gina is not also in the camp of the religious right - she most definitely is - but she also offers more reasonable, and less hyperbolic, counter arguments to the more toxic subjects discussed.
(Photo: Elise Piliponis, Karen MacDonald, Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Nathan Malin in Will Arbery's "HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING" now playing in Boston at SpeakEasy Stage Company until October 8, 2022. Photo by Nile Scott Studios)
There is a huge Rod Serling-inspired "stop sign" near the end of the show which takes the whole piece into "Twilight Zone" territory quite abruptly but without the "O. Henry" style ending.
However, the result will still have many leaving the theatre wondering what the "Hell" just happened.
The single set design, set inside a black box, provides more intimacy to enjoy...well, to experience...the play.
For some that come to see Arbery's "HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING," especially when the very concept of the "Fourth Turning" is revealed, it will probably be a intense struggle to refrain from shouting expletives at some of the more extreme hyperbolic conservative ideas expressed that come along with it.
There is no need.
Again, Arbery's play appears not to want to tear at the armor of any of the characters or ideas depicted - it seems to want to point us more to observe the cracks in the armor that may already exist.
Approximately two hours, 5 minutes with NO intermission.
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
ABOUT THE SHOW
One week after the Charlottesville riots in 2017, four young conservatives gather in a Wyoming backyard to gossip and reminisce.
They’ve assembled to honor Gina, their mentor and the newly inaugurated president of a far-right Catholic university.
But as their celebration runs deep into the night, the reunion explodes into vicious insults, political accusations, and stunning revelations.
Hailed as “a work of singular distinction, for which the word ‘remarkable’ is, if anything, an understatement” by The Wall Street Journal, HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING is a daring look at the heart of a country at war with itself.
WINNER! 2020 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play!
“Explosive… Heroes of the Fourth Turning is demanding, lacerating, and full of our moment!” — The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Perfect, left me with my heart in my mouth… this is the kind of play you know you'll need to read again someday.” — Time Out New York
“More than a year after the riot at the U.S. Capitol, we can appreciate more fully just how prescient Will Arbery’s 2019 play was.” — San Francisco Chronicle
ABOUT SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY
SpeakEasy Stage Company is a non-profit theatre company located in the South End of Boston and is led by award-winning Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault. SpeakEasy was named the Pavilion Resident Theater for the Boston Center for the Arts in 2007 and produces 28 weeks of new plays and musicals each season at the Nancy and Ed Roberts Studio Theater in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.
Subscriptions for SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 2022-23 Season are now on sale. To purchase or for more information, call 617-933-8600 or go online to https://www.bostontheatrescene.com/season/speakeasy-subs.aspx.
Patrons with subscription questions may also call Jim Torres at 617-482-3279 or write Jim at JimTorres@SpeakEasyStage.com.
Administrative Office539 Tremont Street