Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 23, 2022
Playwright: Will Arbery
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: Micaela Ellis, Madeleine Jones, Eddie Orton, Kate Raison, Jeremy Waters
Images by Richard Farland
Four friends are gathered in a Wyoming backyard after a celebration, for their mentor Gina’s induction as president of their Catholic alma mater. Prompted by traumatic events of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally just two days prior, and with the assistance of alcohol, conversations quickly become passionate, and revealing, between these conservative Americans, at the height of the Trump era.
Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning is an exploration of the political discord that seems to have permeated so much of contemporary life. The unrelenting vilification of the other side, without ever getting to really know any of those adversaries in meaningfully personal ways, has created new societal structures that are increasingly fractured, and that feel dismally irreconcilable. In Arbery’s play, we are given the opportunity to look intimately at those who pride themselves as being conservative. The work is often challenging, especially when it skates close to drawing precarious equivalences between left and right, in efforts to make us find empathy for the enemy. The thorough frankness of Arbery’s writing though, encourages introspective reflections that would at least have us reconsider our own incapacity for generosity, when acceptance of conservative ideology remains appropriately an abhorrent idea.
Directed by Craig Baldwin, the dense and bombastic text of Heroes of the Fourth Turning is translated into unexpectedly entrancing drama, the tension of which is unabating and marvellously delicious. Brilliantly confronting, Baldwin’s staging does the hitherto unimaginable task, of making one find understanding for the other, whilst reaffirming one’s own oppositional convictions.
Production design by Soham Apte conveys authenticity for place and characters, with quiet but detailed renderings that serve well to tell the story. Lucia Haddad’s lights are similarly understated, effective in placing us in the right time and atmosphere, to connect with the play’s less than charming personalities. Baldwin’s own sound design offers elegant solutions to sustain our attention, and to keep it firmly focused on the show’s complex dialogue.
An exquisite ensemble of five actors, individually compelling, and powerful as a collective, conspire with great cohesiveness to take us through this tumultuous but highly satisfying examination, of tribes and factions. Madeleine Jones’ flawless recitation of some spectacularly wordy and convoluted alt-right diatribes, as the exasperating Teresa, proves to be maddeningly impressive. Kevin’s crisis of faith as a Catholic with compassion, is conveyed with dazzling fervour and excellent humour, by Eddie Orton. Micaela Ellis’ oscillations between soft and stern, for the role of Emily, provide much needed moments of relief for the audience. The strong, silent Justin is played by Jeremy Waters with a beautiful restraint, leaving us plentiful room to cast judgement however we wish. Woman of the moment Gina, is given a splendid sense of grace by Kate Raison, who also does us a great favour of putting terrible Teresa in her place.
Humanising one’s foe is necessary, if only to keep our eye on the ball, and not be distracted by endless other conflicts that serve little to advance the cause. Heroes of the Fourth Turning does well to aide us in understanding how these American conservatives think and behave. It is true that the very mechanics of our humanity do not vary much; our need to fight for what is right, seems to be universal, and how our circumstances push us to grow vehement with our beliefs, also looks to run parallel. Any ideology, no matter why they come about, whose flourishment requires the subjugation of large categories of people however, simply cannot be allowed to thrive.