Heroes of the Fourth Turning

Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a 2019 play by American writer Will Arbery. It focuses on a group of young Catholic intellectuals who reunite at their college in Wyoming. It premiered off-Broadway. It was received positively by both theatrical critics and conservative media and was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in drama.


Church of the Holy Rosary, shared between Wyoming Catholic College, the inspiration for Transfiguration College, and a local parish

The playwright, Will Arbery, is the son of Glenn Arbery, the former president of Wyoming Catholic College (WCC), a small liberal arts college in Lander, Wyoming, that combines a great books curriculum with outdoor education. The play's fictional Transfiguration College is based on WCC.[1] The title is a reference to the Fourth Turning, a concept in the Strauss–Howe generational theory.[2] Throughout the writing process, he grappled with how to invite audiences to engage with the characters' ideas without asking them to empathize with them or providing a platform for hateful speech.[1]

The play grew out of a shorter work that Arbery wrote for Ensemble Studio Theater shortly before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, depicting reactions to an anticipated Clinton victory. After Trump won, Arbery rewrote and expanded the work.[1] The play premiered off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in New York City in 2019, directed by Danya Taymor.[1][3]


  • Emily, an empathetic daughter of professors at the college who lives with chronic pain
  • Justin, a stoic outdoorsman who works at the college
  • Kevin, an adrift alcoholic fascinated by the outside world
  • Teresa, a passionate disciple of Steve Bannon who lives in New York and writes for a right-wing publication
  • Gina Presson, a professor at the college and its incoming president, as well as Emily's mother



The play is set in 2017, shortly after the Unite the Right rally.[4] It opens with Justin shooting a deer. The four friends spend an evening in a backyard after attending a reunion at their college. They debate numerous political and religious topics. Throughout, a loud sound, which Justin says is a generator, intermittently interrupts the characters. Kevin, drunk, seeks a girlfriend. Midway through the play, they are joined by Gina Presson, their former mentor, who chastises Teresa for her new political beliefs. The play ends with an impassioned monologue from Emily about her pain.



The play was received positively by theatrical critics.[2][4] Jesse Green, writing for The New York Times, called it "a red-state unicorn" that "explores the lives and ideas of conservatives with affection, understanding and deep knowledge — if not, ultimately, approval."[4] He praised "its eagerness to admit, and to subtly criticize by juxtaposition, all arguments".[4] Vinson Cunningham, in The New Yorker, wrote, "Much of the thrill of the play comes in hearing ultraconservative ideas—scarce on New York stages—discussed in earnest, and carried to their most ominous conclusions."[3] Alissa Wilkinson wrote for Vox, "Arbery is neither blindly accepting nor promoting of his characters; to validate or advance a specific worldview isn't the play's intention. Instead, it gently and sometimes joltingly lets Justin, Emily, Teresa, and Kevin lay out their constellation of individual beliefs on their own terms."[2]

It was also received positively by conservative and Catholic publications,[1] such as the Catholic Herald, whose Chad Pecknold wrote, "Arbery's play is remarkable for never letting progressives rest in their dismissals of conservatives, and also for holding up a critical mirror to the often messy disputes that conservatives have amongst themselves."[5] In a glowing review for The American Conservative, Rod Dreher wrote, "I can't think of a single novel, film, or play that better illustrates the spirits of our culture war."[6]

It was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in drama, described in the nomination as "a scrupulously hewn drama."[7] At the 2020 Obie Awards, it won in the playwriting category and received a special citation for its creative team and ensemble.[8] At the 2020 Lucille Lortel Awards, it picked up the top "outstanding play" prize.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e Schuessler, Jennifer (13 October 2019). "A Play About God and Trump, From a Writer Raised on the Right". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 September 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Wilkinson, Alissa (11 November 2019). "How Heroes of the Fourth Turning, about Catholic intellectuals, became one of fall's buzziest plays". Vox. Retrieved 24 September 2022.
  3. ^ a b Cunningham, Vinson (10 October 2019). "A Play About the Nuances of Conservatism in the Trump Era". The New Yorker. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d Green, Jesse (8 October 2019). "Review: In 'Heroes of the Fourth Turning,' a Red-State Unicorn". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 September 2022.
  5. ^ Pecknold, Chad (1 October 2019). "An extraordinary play that challenges progressives and conservatives alike". Catholic Herald. Archived from the original on 4 October 2019. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  6. ^ Dreher, Rod (2 October 2019). "Will Arbery's Heroes". The American Conservative. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  7. ^ "Finalist: Heroes of the Fourth Turning, by Will Arbery". Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  8. ^ McPhee, Ryan (14 July 2020). "Heroes of the Fourth Turning, A Strange Loop Among 2020 Obie Award Winners". Playbill. Retrieved 25 September 2022.
  9. ^ Clement, Olivia (3 May 2020). "Octet and Heroes of the Fourth Turning Lead 2020 Lucille Lortel Award Winners". Playbill. Retrieved 25 September 2022.