Even when it was possible to see shows live on stage, accessibility has long been a big problem for New York theater lovers. That has especially been true of Off Broadway shows: Because the theaters themselves are small, tickets to the best productions get scarce very fast; by the time you find out that something is a must-see, it is all too often a can't-see. And that's not to mention the expense involved, which at major Off Broadway venues is about the same as at Broadway houses.
The rise of virtual theater in the coronavirus era is helping to correct these problems problem, as one show this weekend illustrates especially vividly. On Saturday, July 18, Will Arbery's extraordinary drama Heroes of the Fourth Turning will be performed remotely for audiences to stream at home. The entire original cast of the play's 2019 premiere at Playwrights Horizons will reunite for this one-time, live-only reading on Play-PerView, directed once again by Danya Taymor. Tickets cost as little as $5. For lovers of smart, challenging and provocative new theater, this is a rare and thrilling opportunity.
A portrait of deeply conservative alumni of a Catholic university in rural Wyoming, Heroes of the Fourth Turning was, to my mind, the best new play of 2019. Many others had a similar reaction. The play was a finalist for this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama; it won the Best Play award from both the New York Drama Critics' Circle and the Lucille Lortel Awards. "Danya Taymor presides over a perfect production that left me with my heart in my mouth and my pen scrambling across the page," wrote Helen Shaw in her five-star Time Out review. "It left others furious; some people even departed midshow, unwilling to hear such gorgeous prose saying so many frightening and even hateful things. But Arbery’s plays are important explorations of language…His own family comes from this world, and he has clearly steeped long in its heady, often keenly intellectual poetry."
One fascinating thing about Heroes of the Fourth Turning is the enthusiastic response it has received across the ideological spectrum. (It got a rave review, for example, in The American Conservative.) As we gird ourselves for the upcoming election and the escalating culture war, Arbery's deep dive into religious right-wing worldviews seems more essential than ever. And actors Jeb Kreager, Julia McDermott, Michele Pawk, Zoë Winters and John Zdrojeski help ensure that the play's ideas stay rooted in breathing, complex characters.
As with all Play-PerView productions, Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a benefit—in this case, for Playwrights Horizons, which like all theaters is facing a highly uncertain future right now. Virtual seats are sold in a tiered system that lets you pay as little as $5 (for as long as tickets on that tier last) and as much as $100 (if you want to provide extra support for Playwrights Horizons). Click here to buy tickets to the event. And settle in on Saturday for an unsettling night.
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