Archives for December 2020

Panto Come Home!: ghosts of Christmases past

Publicity photo: Panto Come Home!

Photo of Donna Soares, Mark Chavez, Dawn Petten and Amanda Sum by Emily Cooper

The whole is less than the sum of its parts, but some of those parts are excellent.

This year’s (online) East Van Panto is a collection of greatest musical hits from the last seven years of The Cultch and Theatre Replacement’s pantos. Writer Mark Chavez strings the songs together with a story that’s triggered by the arrival of the Phanto of the Panto. A Phantom of the Opera kind of guy, the Phanto has been lurking in the bowels of the York Theatre for years and he’s seen every frickin’ performance of every frickin’ panto since 2013; he’s desperate to see something new and he suggests the company build this year’s show around the little-known Grimm brothers tale “The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage” (which actually exists). [Read more…]

Be-Longing embraces double-jointed identities

screen shot from The Frank Theatre's Be-Longing

When KhattieQ talks, you listen: she’s not just showing off, she just means it.

A lot of the work in Be-Longing is skilled. And, although not everything in the piece succeeds for me, there’s an underlying integrity to it that makes several passages compelling. [Read more…]

Nom Nom Gnomes: Nope

Carousel Theatre recommends this 30-minute audio play for kids who are three years old and up, but I can’t imagine any kid I know sitting still for it. I could barely manage. [Read more…]

Heroes of the Fourth Turning: Christian Soldiers

This is the review of Heroes of the Fourth Turning that I included in the December 3, 2020 issue of my newsletter, FRESH SHEET. I’m posting it here so that I can link to it in my November 17, 2022 issue. 


I haven’t encountered such a philosophically and intellectually dense new play since I first saw Angels in America in 1994.

In Heroes of the Fourth Turning, former students of the Transfiguration College of Wyoming gather for a reunion of sorts seven years after they’ve graduated. Transfiguration is a conservative Catholic institution — anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-government funding.

As they hang out by the firepit at Justin’s Wyoming house, which feels like it’s in the middle of the prairie nowhere, the young adult characters reinforce and defy conservative stereotypes. Kevin, the drunk, self-styled holy fool, asks, “Why the heck do we have to love the Virgin Mary?” He’s addicted to porn and wants to believe that having a girlfriend would save him. The intellectually formidable Teresa, who lives in New York and idolizes Steve Bannon, admits, “I probably do too much cocaine. It’s fucking great.” Emily suffers a painful illness that looks like Lyme disease — but may be the manifestation of suppressed rage: she dares to empathize with women who terminate their pregnancies. When we first meet Justin, he’s trying to gut a deer, but his hands shake so badly that he drops his knife.

They all voted for Trump. Kevin vomited after doing so.

They’re complicated. And they’re not stupid. So not stupid. They reference St. Augustine and Heidegger and they quote at length from Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journals.

They fear the chaos of liberalism. Hillary Clinton “would have scrubbed the world of particularity” Teresa informs us. “Of mystery.” Without Christian discipline, America would become “a throbbing mass of genderless narcissists … feeding us a brand new set of oppressed identities every year.”

If the script sounds talky — and heady — it is. From my perspective, it looks like the characters are fighting the long-standing Catholic battle against the body and, like generations of Catholics before them, they’re losing. Fucked up about sex and gender, they retreat into increasingly isolated ideological outposts.

But that’s my take. Playwright Will Arbery’s parents are both professors at Wyoming Catholic College, which looks a lot like Transfiguration and, when he goes home to visit, he recites the rosary with them.

The action in the play is repeatedly interrupted by deafening clanging. Justin says it’s his generator malfunctioning, but it becomes increasingly likely that something more mysterious is going on — maybe something about cultural noise. Near the end of the play, Kevin expresses his desperation to “let two competing facts exist in the same space.”

Arbery’s refusal of an easy resolution is one of the script’s strengths. But, the way I see it, its underlying subject is the desperation — and failure — to escape spiritual suffering.

I laid down $34 US to watch a digital stream of Heroes of the Fourth Turning from Philadelphia’s Wilma Theatre. I’m glad I did. Thirty-four bucks isn’t too much to pay for this kind of stimulation. And the production is excellent.

I don’t expect a lot of readers to open their wallets. If you don’t, consider this a bulletin from a scout. Remember Arbery’s name. And, if you’re tempted to check out Heroes of the Fourth Turning — by purchasing tickets from the Wilma, by reading the script, or just by keeping your ear out for it — do so.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning will be available for digital streaming until December 13. If you watch it, let me know what you think.

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