Reunions are tricky things. Sure, it’s cute to pull out the baby pics, compare hairlines, or hook up with your old high-school sweetheart, but more often than not, they’re powder kegs waiting to go BOOM! when memories best forgotten are resurrected, or old ingrained beliefs are questioned.
This was exactly the dynamite situation in Heroes of the Fourth Turning when four former college students from a conservative Catholic college in Wyoming, reuniting to celebrate the promotion of their old mentor Gina (Kate Raison) to college President. All Trump supporters for varying reasons, and not long after the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville Virginia, the group is left together at the end of the night waiting for Gina to turn up after her induction.
There’s the alcohol-fuelled Kevin (Eddie Orton), who’s never quite made much of himself since college; the devout and kind Emily (Micaela Ellis) suffering from an unexplained disability; Teresa (Madeleine Jones) a fiery right-wing fanatic living the life in New York; and party host ex-marine Justin (Jeremy Waters), a wood-chopping type harbouring secrets and trauma.
It’s not long before their conversations cross boundaries, the arguments begin and layers are peeled back to reveal these young Christians are no longer who they thought they were. Throughout, we are treated to immensely strong and powerful performances on an intimate simple set offering no distraction.
Yet, I found myself looking for one.
Written by Will Arbery (raised himself by conservative Catholic parents so he has cred), Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a Pulitzer-nominated play and the recipient of many more awards, so there’s certainly enough to attract an audience and win the respect of reviewers. In fact, it’s impossible to find a review, which doesn’t rave about the production. I’m just not one of them.
Aubrey admits he wrote the play after Trump was elected in 2016 amid a lot of talk from small subsections of conservative America. He felt he “had a responsibility to provide audiences with access to those conversations.” And therein lay the problem for me. The stage became a platform for delivering these scattered thoughts, resulting in way too much dialogue and not enough story. Yes, the fact there was no conclusion is indeed the point, but it was drowned in too much lecture-like delivery and lost me.
Standing out on a limb here, I know, but while I was provoked and confronted, (it definitely is a great study to dissect and discuss) I just couldn’t engage. One deep and meaningful monologue by Teresa, while cleverly and expertly delivered, left me screaming inwardly for her to STOP!. My head hurt trying to connect with her unrelenting angst. I just didn’t care enough. I did find myself caring however over Emily’s eventual meltdown, it was nothing short of brilliant and I understood the relevance. It was also interesting to discover what the ‘fourth turning’ actually is and fascinating to witness lightbulbs go off in heads when Gina unabashedly exposes her evangelical fanaticism with no care for the cost to others. It was just too exhausting listening to these characters exorcise their pain and deep-rooted beliefs en route.