SPEAKEASY STAGE has just kicked off its season with perhaps the most daring, intelligently written, and eye-opening production onstage right now in progressive theater circles: HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING.  The play is a sharp, densely-written theatrical exploration of conservatism, specifically the rift between old and new Catholic conservatives as they debate the hot topics of the day: racism, abortion, religion, Trump, as well as the philosophical, political, and intellectual underpinnings of these arguments right down to the value of empathy–a healing mechanism for connection? Or an emotionally self-righteous swamp that breeds complacency?

Elise Piliponis, Karen MacDonald, Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Nathan Malin in Heroes of the Fourth Turning. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

So fasten your seatbelts and take the ride as you observe conservatives in the wild! Our heroes are four alumni of an ultra- conservative Catholic University in Wyoming who have gathered under the stars on the eve of a solar eclipse a week after the 2017 Charlottesville riot to celebrate the inauguration of the school’s new President. Written by Will Arbery and a Finalist for the Pulitzer, the play is directed by Marianna Bassham whose stellar acting chops are well known in these parts.

Here she  wrests the fullness of each character and the thicket of text they’re called on to deliver from this dazzling cast. Each is more than a mouthpiece –no small feat given how much their mouths are called on to do. These characters are all graduates of a school which banned sex and mandated the classics, so expect serious, intellectual, well-sourced arguments sometimes fueled by alcohol and sublimated sexual desire. As the increasingly heated interactions unfold, the air is thick with revelation, betrayal, soul-searching, anger, passion, and pain as these complex characters palpably inhabit every breath.

The title, which almost sounds like science fiction (indeed, these ideas may seem alien to left-leaning theater goers) is a reference to a theory called “THE FOURTH TURNING” about purported cycles of American history. Espoused by Steve Bannon, the theory is also embraced by the smart and snarky Teresa (Dayna Cousins) who at one point takes on her mentor the newly inaugurated President Gina (Karen Mac Donald) who proudly refers to herself as “a Goldwater girl” with little taste for Trump and his ilk. In response, Teresa rattles her saber for western civilization and eviscerates Gina’s quaint pleas for “peace,” warning: “There’s a war coming, dude.” It’s a particularly relevant debate on the right, right now.

Young, restless Kevin (Nathan Malin) who’s still trying to figure himself out and still a virgin, gets progressively drunker as the night goes on. The actor precisely calibrates his character’s increasing drunkenness until Kevin regurgitates a long, searing confessional. He’s in love with the gentle Emily (Elise Philiponis) who’s debilitated by a painful disease; but she’s also sitting on a mountain of turmoil which erupts in an exorcism of pain and anger as she clings to her faith– and Justin (Jesse Hinson). As the quietest and oldest of this quartet, Justin’s rectitude may be hiding something. The play opens with his bagging a deer, but he’s unable to gut his prey. A former marine who’s no doubt had his share of conquests– is he now on a more spiritual path?

HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING is an adventure in thought. If you’ve been too comfortably ensconced here in lefty heaven, it will burst your bubble– and that’s the point.  Hearing this conversation on the “right” side of the political divide is an invigorating exercise which Arbery offers us not by way of indoctrination, but rather as an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of the echo chambers in which we all find ourselves cloistered– and perhaps hear something different as we search for meaning in these claustrophobic times. I recommend HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING — and see where it takes you. At SPEAKEASY STAGE at the BCA’s Calderwood Pavilion through October 8!