by Lynn on October 13, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest Studio. A Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre Co-production, playing until Oct. 29, 2023.

Written by Will Arbery

Directed by Philip Akin

Set and props by Wes Babcock

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Sound by Jacob Lin

Cast: Mac Fyfe

Ruth Goodwin

Cameron Laurie

Maria Ricossa

Hallie Saline

Explosive in every way. Listen, consider, ruminate on another point of view: the Christian right in America, and engage.

The Story. Wyoming. 2017. Four college friends (Justin, Teresa, Kevin and Emily), all graduated, have come back to their college, Transfiguration College of Wyoming, to celebrate their former professor (Gina Presson) who has been appointed the president of the school. The college is focused on Catholic teachings (anti-abortion, anti-gay). The four friends gather at the home of Justin who has organized a party in celebration of their professor’s promotion and wait for her to appear. The conversation indicates varying degrees of Conservative to right-wing thinking, intellectual rigor, delusion and blinkered attitudes. In some quarters these ideas might be considered terrifying.   

The Production. Wes Babcock has transformed the Studio Theatre at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, into a stylish back drop of Justin’s (Mac Fyfe) home. A sliding glass door separates the back of the house from the backyard. There is a neat bar with bottles of liquor on the other side of the sliding door. There is a bench in the back yard, some stumps used as seat, a place for the storage of wood, a shed stage left and woods beyond. It’s both modern and rustic.

Justin (Mac Fyfe) quietly appears from inside the house—jeans, work shirt, boots.  He is imposing and thoughtful. He is bookish. He works at the college. He sees something in the distance. He quietly goes into another part of the house and brings back a rifle. He aims it into the distance and shoots. He goes off in that direction and comes back carrying a dead deer (?) on his back. He hangs it up on the shed and when he tries to skin it his hand cramps, several times. He hides the deer. I note that something is attached to his belt. It’s a handgun in a pouch. Justin is hosting a party for his former professor and he needs to wear a handgun on his belt. (Kudos to costume designer Laura Delchiaro and perhaps Wes Babcock too).

Emily (Hallie Seline) appears. She is a young woman but she uses a cane. She is in pain most of the time. She is nicely dressed in an understated dress. Justin is very attentive towards her, checking on her health, wanting to know if she wants to go home. There is no romance, just friendship.  There is mention of ticks as a possible cause of her medical issue. I’m thinking she has Lyme’s disease, but this seems worse. She is the daughter of Gina Presson, the woman being celebrated. Emily has texted her several times to hurry up and arrive. Emily seems frustrated when her mother doesn’t appear.

Kevin (Cameron Laurie), in shirt and slacks, is an anxious, awkward man who tries to be upbeat and jokey. He just comes off as confused and needy. He’s in a job he hates.  He’s desperate for a girlfriend. He drinks a lot–he has a bottle of liquor in his back pants pocket.   

The fourth member of this quartet of friends is Teresa (Ruth Goodwin). She is the ‘star’ of the group. She is smartly dressed in a form-fitting dress and heels. She is making a statement with her sophisticated clothes. She moved away to New York to work in the media, as a political writer for a website. We get the sense it’s a right-wing website from what Teresa says during the play. She reveres Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. She lives in Brooklyn and prides herself that it’s close to a place that George Washington fought a battle. Perhaps this makes Teresa think she is broad minded—to live in such a place, close to those who represent ‘the other side’ of political ideology with such a history. She is about to be married but worries that the wedding will not be as beautiful as she hopes.

Teresa and Justin had a relationship when they were students. She finds him alone in the backyard and chats him up. As Teresa, Ruth Goodwin is flirty, coy and very confident. She is not overt in her body language, not physically pushy as such. She’s ‘careful.’ She loves the ‘chase,’ the tease. As Justin, Mac Fyfe is quiet, reserved, thoughtful and does not play into the flirting.

Teresa knows her ability to be the center of attention. She’s teasing and off-handed with Kevin when they are alone in the backyard. Cameron Laurie as Kevin plays his desperation for a girlfriend so well, he practically lunges at her. She dispatches his ardor with a flip remark and just a hint of disdain.  

The discourse and politics of the group gets ramped up when the four friends talk about politics, abortion and attitudes. This is where Teresa comes into her element and Ruth Goodwin is wonderfully terrifying. She almost seems to lecture her friends about the state of the world: the philosophy and history of the cyclical “Fourth Turning,” Plato, religion, etc. She likens abortion to the Holocaust. Emily is horrified and challenges her on this. Teresa stares that down and offers another stunning statement saying, “It’s true. You can look it up,” as if that phrase gives nonsense credibility.  We learn Emily works in Chicago at a “pro-life” organization counselling women. She is not as blinkered as her friends. She has friends who are pro-choice and gay.

With every self-righteous statement Teresa makes, Emily counters with moral indignation. While Ruth Goodwin as Teresa is measured, nuanced and matter of fact, Hallie Seline as Emily is more and more emotional and agitated. It is a beautifully created scene between these two gifted actors.

And then Gina Presson (Maria Ricossa) arrives. She is buoyant with the joy of becoming president of the college. She’s delighted to see her former students, although her daughter Emily is not happy she had to wait so long for her arrival. And in short order Gina Presson engages with her former students. Their attitudes and character are further revealed. As Teresa demolished everybody’s attitudes, that’s as efficiently Gina stares down Teresa. With a beautiful mix of terms that could be at once affectionate and condescending, Gina reveales how Teresa is blinkered, rigid, and incapable of seeing any side but her own. As Gina, Maria Ricossa is always calm, intellectually nimble and gracious. The result is devastating.

Philip Akin has directed the play with the most delicate of touches, always in control, always keeping things coiled until matters unravel and you sit back in your seat (for protection, certainly not to relax) and breathe deeply. Akin’s sensitive handling of the most explosive scenes never let the emotion run away with the play, but illuminated it. These are intelligent, educated people who are not idiots or clowns. They are riddled with contradictions and Philip Akin’s direction of his terrific cast carefully reveals that.

Comment. Playwright Will Arbery wrote the play when Donald Trump became president. Arbery’s family is Republican and his father was the president of a Catholic University in Wyoming. He knows these people. He’s not ridiculing them. He’s revealing them. They are articulate, searching, affectionate, challenging and insecure, no matter how secure they seem. He’s written a play which represents ‘the other side.’ They have something to say. We should listen, consider, ponder, assess, although not necessarily agree.

Arbery also has a ‘character,’ unlisted who ‘inhabits’ (haunts?) Emily. She is someone none of these characters really considered with their vaulting ideas about the world, abortion, society, etc. She is a Black woman, desperate for an abortion, and her words come out of Emily’s mouth (a stunning performance by Hallie Seline) in a torrent of rage, invective, hopelessness and desperation at the world she lives in.  Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a complex, challenging, unsettling play. Perfect for our unsettling times.

A co-production between The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre present:

Plays until Oct. 29, 2023.

Running time: 2 hour, 10 minutes (no intermission)

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