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Heroes of the Fourth Turning

Heroes of the Fourth Turning
Writer: Will Arbery
Director: Craig Baldwin
Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre
March 31 – April 23, 2022

Will Arbery’s Heroes of the First Turning focusses on a group of young Catholic conservatives faced with accepting Donald Trump as protector of “traditional” values although it is an unpalatable option for many. A complex and nuanced play, it asks us to consider the destructive consequences of choosing the wrong means to achieve what is held to be the right end. While mostly argument from various perspectives and experiences, as theatre it is totally engrossing.

What makes the play so absorbing is the diverse and fully fleshed out characterisation of the young conservatives. The group meet at the house of Justin to celebrate the appointment of their former and loved professor, Gina Presson (Kate Raison) as the new president of the small Wyoming Catholic college which they had attended. Justin (Jeremy Waters), who now lives and works at the college, is a gun-carrying, country music, outdoors man searching for meaning while the incoherent Kevin (Eddie Orton), confused about Catholicism’s stance on important issues and sexually desperate, works at a Catholic textbook company. The most confident of the group, the voluble Teresa (Madeleine Jones), is a smartly dressed copywriter for a conservative publication, living in New York.

It is Teresa who enthusiastically unpacks the title of the play. According to The Fourth Turning written in 1997 and often quoted by Trump appointee, Steve Bannon, civilisation moves in 80-year cycles, each cycle comprising four turnings. The fourth crisis signals the collapse of the old order, and the future belongs to the heroes – Teresa’s generation – who seize the day and create a new order closer to their hearts’ desire.

Teresa is excited by “the coming war”, possibly because she sees herself as a powerful player in the new world order. Both Kevin and Justin respond to the notion of imminent war but what will their new order look like? Clearly, Kevin would like a world where sex before marriage was not a sin and without the dilemma of voting for tainted politicians and Justin would like a world in which he would be called to strong action. However, a fourth member of the group, Emily (Micaela Ellis), the daughter of Gina Presson, and who suffers debilitating pain from an unspecified disease, would like a different world again, a world that is inclusive and solaces the suffering of all.

When their personally ambitious professor arrives at the party – very late and not in a particularly responsive mood – she dampens all aspiration. She declares herself disappointed in Teresa, accusing her of spiritual “thinness”, refuses to allow Justin to fulfil his ambition of training the college students in sharp shooting and perhaps, most negative of all, offers Kevin a job in the college he is clearly unsuited for but will keep him safe from real life. Her presence allows us to see that, if Emily dutifully loves her highly regarded mother, she doesn’t like her and she frequently attempts to moderate her mother’s pragmatic responses. After her mother leaves, the gentle Emily erupts in a violent rage motivated by the failure of belief to heal human pain.

So how does it end? Throughout the course of the night – and the set is always partially in darkness – a horrible sound, part explosion, part screech has periodically forced the group to clutch their ears and crouch in agony. Justin attributes it to the generator but later admits to Emily that he doesn’t know what it is. The groaning house, into which Gina Presson, Teresa and Kevin have departed, it is suggested, is possessed by a fearful presence. Emily who believes in “giveness” and Justin whose story of the “Grateful Acre” is a highlight of the performance, remain outdoors and outside its influence.

A play of ideas that has implications far beyond Catholic conservatism, and Trumpism, Heroes of the Fourth Turning explores why individuals adhere to beliefs and ideologies and what that means for the future of humanity. An intense and difficult challenge for the cast whose performances create a social grouping that is alien to most of its audience with immense conviction.

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theatre@ssh.com.au

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