'Heroes of the Fourth Turning' by Will Arbery
A Howland Company and Crow's Theatre Co-Production now onstage at Crow's Theatre
Credit: Dahlia Katz. Foreground l-r: Cameron Laurie and Mac Fyfe. Background: Ruth Goodwin (sitting) and Hallie Seline (standing)
‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ is a challenging look at a dense text that disturbs on the human level. Piercing and raw, the production becomes refreshing to watch a skilled ensemble of actors tell one hell of a good story.
After the curtain came down, I desperately wanted to discuss this opening night of Will Arbery’s ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ right then and there in a talkback. The play has been called a daring look at a country at war with itself.
I’ll take it one step further.
A 2020 Drama Finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, ‘Fourth Turning’ becomes a daring look at the conservative view of the tenets of the Catholic faith and the characters who adopt hardcore stances that do not necessarily reflect the basic principles of what Catholicism asks of its followers.
Arbery nearly crosses the line into Catholic/Christian bashing of strong conservative views, but he stops short and never does it. Why? These are likeable young people educated in the Catholic faith who have their whole lives ahead of them. Yes, each has crises of faith, turmoil, and personal regrets. They are also acutely aware of the recent ‘Unite the Right’ Charlottesville 2017 white supremacist rally; however, these four characters still believe they can make a difference in a world that continues to be divided and will ultimately become woke in the future.
What frustrates me as an audience member about ‘Fourth Turning’? Another social ideology I had yet to learn. On a simple basic premise (which I hope I have right), the Fourth Turning involves dividing historical events into recurring generational personas. The twenty-century Western culture as we know it currently divides people on many controversially confusing social issues. Do we need to add more fuel to the fire of our already fragile world?
It’s late at night in Wyoming, 2017. Teresa (Ruth Goodwin), Kevin (Cameron Laurie) and Emily (Hallie Seline) gather at a backyard after-party at Justin’s (Mac Fyfe) house. They have returned to their alma mater college home to toast their mentor, Gina (Maria Ricossa), Emily’s mother, newly inducted as president of a tiny Catholic college in town. The college reunion of these four young people doesn’t become uniquely special for them. Instead, the gathering spirals into far more destructive questions, thoughts, and accusations regarding religion and politics, leaving wounds that may never heal.
Philip Akin directs with an assured hand of gritty and realistic conviction. Wes Babcock’s functional set design in the intimate Studio Theatre allows for maximum sightline views and a solid connection to the unfolding events of the plot mere centimetres away. Laura Delchiaro’s costume designs delineate each character's varied social strata levels. Jacob Lin’s sound design of what is the generator’s malfunction made me jump each time I heard it. Logan Raju Cracknell’s lighting design sharply focuses on many of the volatile conversations overheard between the characters.
The five-member ensemble remains the solid highlight of the opening night production. They’re in blissful synchronicity with each other. They listen, respond, and deliver top-notch quality performances of natural believability.
Mac Fyfe is towering and bold, yet quietly observing and listening as Justin, the eldest member of the reunion. Fyfe is riveting at the top of the show. He’s an outdoorsman. Watching his actions with a gun and what occurs immediately following is unsettling. It initially appears Justin might be someone to fear; however, that all changes when the audience sees how compassionate he is towards a chronically in pain Emily. Justin never seeks anything in return for assisting her in any way.
Hallie Seline gives a sweet and lovely performance as an empathetic Emily, but there is that nagging question of what is causing such distress that it affects her physically. Emily has had to learn to suppress her emotions, especially in her work with Planned Parenthood. One client in particular left quite an emotional scar.
Emily’s hesitant relationship with her bombastically belittling mother, Gina, also doesn’t help. As Gina speaks to the others in the yard, Seline watches the action silently unfold. She listens intently and may not say much. Nevertheless, her eyes and physical sitting stance powerfully convey far more about how she feels regarding her mother. Seline’s delivery of a monologue near the end of the play remains riveting in all its gritty vernacular.
Maria Ricossa’s Gina is a deliciously pompous academic elite as a mother and mentor. She’s direct; she’s bold. She’s also a bully, but it’s understandable why as the play unfolds.
Ruth Goodwin is terrific as Teresa, a mirror image of Gina. The latter provided mentorship and guidance years ago to the former. Teresa incorporates many of her mentor’s abrasive qualities now that she writes for a right-wing publication, which Gina bluntly questions. Goodwin’s Teresa, nevertheless, smartly goes one step further to create an underlying tension between her and her classmates. She becomes sarcastically bitchy even after she is cut off at the knees by Gina.
Additionally, Goodwin’s Teresa is also hurtfully cruel and vicious. She shares a secret with someone present at this gathering, ultimately becoming known.
Cameron Laurie’s Kevin is a pathetic, sad man when the audience first meets him. He’s an alcoholic who desperately craves a girlfriend and longs for a female to touch him—Laurie’s nuanced performance nails what it means to be a Catholic Christian. While Teresa, Justin, and Emily repress, retreat, and stifle their reaching out to others, Kevin, in his lonely, adrift, lost soul manner, becomes fascinated with the outside world. He is willing to take the hard knocks in connecting to others and would love to accept the ‘Dean of Students’ post that Gina offers him.
Final Comments: ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ remains disturbing and enlightening. It’s disheartening and invigorating. Director Philip Akin says in his Artistic Note, “Not all big ideas are easy to grapple with. So that is our challenge.”
And what a challenge when a play makes an audience think. There are no immediate answers, only more questions. That’s a good thing.
It’s also a good thing to go and see ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’
Running time: approximately two hours and ten minutes with no intermission.
‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ runs until October 29 in the Studio Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. Call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 ex for tickets. 1010 or visit crowstheatre.com.
A HOWLAND COMPANY AND CROW’S THEATRE CO-PRODUCTION
‘HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING’ by Will Arbery
Directed by Philip Akin
Sets and Props: Wes Babcock
Costume Designer: Laura Delchiaro
Lighting Designer: Logan Raju Cracknell
Sound Designer: Jacob Lin 林鴻恩
House Technician: Zach White
Stage Manager: Hannah MacMillan
Assistant Director: 郝邦宇Steven Hao
Production Manager: Jeremy Hutton
Performers: Mac Fyfe, Ruth Goodwin, Cameron Laurie, Maria Ricossa, Hallie Seline