Print this Page

NY Theater Reviews

Jeb Kreager, John Zdrojeski and Zoƫ Winters/ Ph: Joan Marcus

COTE'S TOP PICK OF 2019

By DAVID COTE

Heroes peered into the murk and found the white gaze staring back at us.

In a year when the nation’s ideological divisions got deeper and uglier, Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning (Playwrights Horizons) was a long, hard look into the dark. Four friends, graduates of a conservative Catholic college, linger after a party celebrating their beloved teacher Gina (Michelle Pawk), who has just been named president of the school. Laura Jellinek’s unit set (perched between the quotidian and the mythic) was a humble backyard in rural Wyoming. Designer Isabella Byrd’s lights stayed low, as characters entered and exited, slipping from pools of wan light into shadow, arguing about the fate of their souls and our nation.
 
Over two unbroken hours, confessions spilled out, affairs were revealed, intellectual bullying occurred (by the smugly aggressive Theresa, played by Zoë Winters), and horrific demon screams issued from a boiler behind the house. The characters are serious young Christians, well educated, funny and truly conservative – to varying degrees. Besides swaggering Theresa, they include the drunkenly adrift Kevin (John Zdrojeski); the strong and silent Justin (Jeb Kreager), an ex-soldier older than the rest; and Emily (Julia McDermott), Gina’s daughter and a young woman wracked with mysterious, chronic disease. This was a deep focus play, both in the way its thick, crepuscular lighting made you lean forward to discern flickering expressions and the brooding hills in the distance, but also in the way you had to lean into the rhetoric and rush of ideas, some of which were seductive, while others were repugnant.
 
Impeccably staged by Danya Taymor, Heroes represented a bracing fusion of the Shavian “play of ideas” and a weird play of the post-Mac Wellman mold (yes, Kushner got there already with Angels in America). It was a play that put the political ambitions and theological sureties of conservative Christians front and center, without judgment or condescension. In doing so, it made you question and rethink your own secular, liberal assumptions. In recent seasons there have been excellent plays critiquing the “white gaze” in theater: Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview and Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, to name two. In Heroes, we peered into the murk, and found the white gaze staring back at us. Who would be first to blink?