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Off-Broadway Review: “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater (Extended through Sunday November 17, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater (Extended through Sunday November 17, 2019)
Written by Will Arbery
Directed by Danya Taymor
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Three Gen Y Conservative Christians gather at Justin’s (a thoughtful and broken Jeb Kraeger) backyard in Lander, Wyoming to celebrate Generation X Gina’s (a confident and willful Michelle Pawk) inauguration as president of Transfiguration College of Wyoming. These “heroes” are preparing for a battle of Armageddon-like proportions. They do not simply disagree with those infidels on the left: they despise them and consider them to be in league with the anti-Christ. These young adults, according to Teresa (an opinionated and dangerous Zoë Winters) need to identify themselves with the heroes described in William Strauss’ and Neil Howe’s 1997 “The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny.”

By Strauss’ and Howe’s reckoning, these Conservative Christians know they are in the authors’ “Crisis,” the fourth turning, and there is a war coming. if this war – this unraveling – is to be won, it is up to them to win it. The opposition forces – the LGBTQ+ communities, the “pro-lifers,” the “left-wing liberals” – are strong and highly organized. Just as Justin offers his “animal sacrifice” on the altar of his doorstep, the holy warriors will need to make additional personal sacrifices. There will be blood and the cleanup, just as Justin’s attempt to “disappear” the blood of the troublesome dead, gutted deer, will be difficult.

King Henry’s Crispin Crispian’s monologue seems relevant. “But we in it shall be rememberèd—We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother.” (“Henry V,” Act 4, Scene 3) These Young Christians consider themselves a band of siblings willing to shed their blood for their “King” and “His Kingdom.” There is, however, more dysfunction in this Gen Y band than cohesion. Justin is conflicted, Emily (a suffering and compassionate Julia McDermott) is conflicted about the “evil” of the pro-life movement, Kevin (a distracted and discordant John Zdrojeski) is sex-deprived and addicted with a sexual status falling somewhere in the gender fluid spectrum, non-saint Theresa is hateful and less than loving unconditionally, and Gina’s understanding of the Christian conservative movement is wholly different than that of her overly zealous charges.

This is a frightening group of devotees hell bent on prying open the gates of hell to usher in all who would disagree with their conservative polemic. In “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” currently running at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, playwright Will Arbery has shared a dystopic slice of American life that continues to fester on the nation’s socio-political underbelly. If these young adults and their mentor are the heroes of the current iteration of the fourth turning, there is reason for fear and trembling. If the “rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem” (William Butler Yeats) is anything like these Christian conservatives’ hope, then pro-life, gender equality, democracy, and the Constitution of the United States are in jeopardy.

Under Danya Taymor’s intuitive and exacting direction, the accomplished cast delivers believable and authentic performances and embodies the characteristics of Yeats’ rough beast with cathartic effect. Laura Jellinek’s scenic design and Isabella Byrd’s shadowy lighting are the perfect backdrop for the clandestine gathering two days before the solar eclipse. And Justin Ellington’s sound design gives apocryphal voice to what Justin identifies to be a malfunctioning generator, the perfect sign that “the center is not holding” and that everyone needs to hold on tightly to any fabric woven with equality, unconditional love, non-judgmental love, and an escape hatch to redemptive freedom and release.


“Heroes of the Fourth Turning” features Jeb Kreager, Julia McDermott, Michele Pawk, Zoë Winters, and John Zdrojeski. The creative team includes Laura Jellinek (Scenic Designer), Sarafina Bush (Costume Designer), Isabella Byrd (Lighting Designer), Justin Ellington (Sound Designer), J. David Brimmer (Fight Director), and Jenny Kennedy (Stage Manager).

“Heroes of the Fourth Turning” runs at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday November 10, 2019. For the full performance schedule, visit Tickets are available at or by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200. Running time is 2 hours.

Photo: Jeb Kreager, John Zdrojeski, and Zoë Winters in “Heroes of the Fourth Turning.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 25, 2019