The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, PA presents
Stage Manager: Patreshettarlini Adams
Assistant Director of Photography: Taj Rauch
Sound Engineer: Joe Samala
Wardrobe Supervisor: Morgan Porter
COVID Officer: Missy Furth
Fight Consultant: Eli Lynn
Producer: Kellie Mecleary
Winner of the 2020 Obie Award for Playwriting!
Best Play, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award!
Outstanding Play, Lucille Lortel Award!
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama!
Four Catholic conservative friends gather at a late-night backyard party in Wyoming, shortly before the 2017 eclipse. As they wait for the arrival of their mentor and newly appointed college president, secret passions and fears surface, revealing their troubled place in a divided country.
“A flawless, impressively well-cast production of a work of singular distinction, one for which the word “remarkable” is, if anything, an understatement…This is a play you must see, right now.”
–Wall Street Journal
–New York Times
This play was captured digitally as a site-specific production, created in a closed quarantine “bubble” at a private location in the Poconos, following strict health guidelines.
The Wilma Theater planned to produce Heroes of the Fourth Turning on stage in October, a month before the 2020 presidential election. I was interested in directing the play not only for Will Arbery’s expert writing and characters drawn with Chekhovian nuance, but because I wanted to learn more about members of the ‘other side.’ In this play, they are Catholic conservatives, who thought they could use Trump for their own political agenda, to get conservative Catholics into the Supreme Court and federal government and restrict abortion rights. They voted for Trump in 2016, and helped him win.
In the USA, we tend to live in bubbles, surrounding ourselves with friends who have the same politics as ours, reading the news from the same sources, creating our own reality and looking at those with opposing views as “others,” with whom we have nothing in common. Arbery’s play challenges that notion and explores the common humanity of people, who may be just like me – looking for a way to live, to love, to care, to fight – except they have embraced very different narratives of reality than mine.
Will Arbery grew up in a family of Catholic intellectual conservatives who voted for Trump. His father is the President of Wyoming Catholic College and his mother a beloved professor there. The characters of Heroes come from his personal experience. Arbery loves his characters, but he no longer agrees with their convictions and with the narratives that support those convictions. He takes to task their belief in Western exceptionalism and their avoidance of a full exploration of American history, which brought deep and lasting harm to others, especially black and indigenous people. In a surreal moment of the play, when the spirit of a poor black woman enters one of the white characters, we experience the privilege of Arbery’s characters and their lack of awareness and empathy. Any mention of the original native population in the play is absent, except perhaps for an unexplained howling sound that interrupts the conversation from time to time during the night.
Heroes of the Fourth Turning is rich and nuanced and I hoped that in the time of elections, when the air is filled with harsh screaming political slogans, the play could offer a deeper understanding of the conservative malaise and surrender to Trump’s narcisstic autocracy.
But then the Covid pandemic struck, and theaters in the US had to close their doors. At the Wilma, we chose not to go dormant but to keep our staff and artists working and creating a strong presence online. if our audience could not come to us, we would go to them. And so this hybrid version of theater and film came to life: staged in a backyard in the woods, filmed over several cold October nights by a small but mighty group of theater artists, caught by multiple cameras, and edited into the piece you are about to watch. I’m very excited we can share the work with audiences beyond the walls of the Wilma Theater and bring it as far as Estonia.
Director and Co-Founder of the Wilma Theater