Smash: A play about conservative Catholics is a hot ticket in New York

Smash: A play about conservative Catholics is a hot ticket in New York October 14, 2019

“I don’t know how anyone — progressive, conservative, anyone — walks out of this play without the conviction that somehow, they have to change their life.”

Who’da thunk? The trailer above gives a taste of the play critics are raving about.

Details: 

For a young playwright in New York, it’s one thing to draw buzz from critics and theater fans. It’s quite another have your dense and boundary-pushing Off Broadway play become a talking point among religious conservatives — and not because they hate it.

Shortly before the opening last week of “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” — his new play about a group of conservative Roman Catholic millennials arguing all night in a Wyoming backyard about God, love and Donald Trump — Will Arbery sent the script to Rod Dreher, the prominent Orthodox Christian blogger.

And Dreher responded with an exuberant 5,000-word blog post, praising the play’s “depth of moral vision” and declaring, “I don’t know how anyone — progressive, conservative, anyone — walks out of ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ without the conviction that somehow, they have to change their life.”

There was also praise in the Catholic Herald and the conservative journal First Things, neither normally quoted on theater marquees. All of which left Arbery feeling both happy amazement at, as he put it, “writing a play that Catholics like,” along with wariness of any purely celebratory embrace.

“I would never want this play to breed any complacency on either side,” he said over lunch at a cafe in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “This was a play that was meant to trouble.”

“Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” directed by Danya Taymor and extended through Nov. 10 at Playwrights Horizons, is hardly the first play to be hailed as illuminating our polarized political moment. (Jesse Green, in The New York Times, called it “astonishing” and “riveting.”)

But where most works of theater seen as “explaining Trump” have explored the economic anxieties of the Rust Belt white working-class, “Heroes” focuses on the distinctive, heady and what Arbery calls the “secretive” world of conservative Catholic intellectuals.

It’s a world Arbery, who recently turned 30, knows well. His father, a literary scholar, is currently the president of Wyoming Catholic College, a tiny conservative institution whose mixture of Outward Bound-style wilderness training and Great Books curriculum inspired the play’s fictional Transfiguration College. His mother, a political philosopher, also teaches there.

Read on — and find out what his parents think of it. Meantime, check out a scene from the play below, in which the characters discuss Trump.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!