Let’s Have a Big Conversation!

Let’s Have a Big Conversation!

September 13, 2022

an essay by Heroes of the Fourth Turning Dramaturg Regine Vital

When I first heard about Heroes of the Fourth Turning, my immediate thought was: “In 2022, do I really care about four white Catholic conservatives chatting in Wyoming?” It’s a world I already sort of know, and, considering the last (almost) two decades of American politics, a world I’m not eager to dwell in.

Then I read the play. “Do your due diligence,” I thought. My immediate reaction: “Damn. You got me.”

While the Catholicism and conservatism are the initial draws for most viewers, what I find fascinating is the intellectual milieu Will Arbery creates within a matrix of faith, woven together as natural praxis, delivered in a piece of art. I was hooked because the play is, in many ways, the practice of philosophy in action. Arbery’s characters are students of a classical liberal arts education; schooled in the Great Books, beginning with the Greeks. The pedagogical models for the fictional Transfiguration College of Wyoming (as well as for Wyoming Catholic College, on which TCW is based), are the teachings, philosophies, and education practices of Plato and Aristotle. The conversation style Theresa, Justin, Emily, and Kevin engage in recalls the Socratic dialogues depicted in Plato’s philosophical works, which touch on all sorts of topics — parenting, the nature of art, politics, and government. The conversations themselves are an exercise of Aristotle’s ethics, or at least a genuine interrogation of how to live them: how do humans achieve eu- daemonia, or “flourish” in life while being the very nature of what they are—rational, social, and therefore political, animals with emotions, desires, and urges?

Four friends having a “big conversation” in the middle of the night touching on all the major topics: politics, philosophy, relationships, religion, faith, goodness, suffering — life! The play felt like I was back in ancient Greece, sitting in the agora (an outdoor open space for assemblies and markets), listening to a classic Platonic dialogue. In ancient Greece, poli- tics, religion, and art were not separate distinct disciplines; even theatrical events were usually a mix of the three. More often than not, these three ideas—which we strive to keep fully separate today—blended into one another as citizens of the poleis (city, society) sought to understand life and how to live it well. That is philosophy. Politics, meanwhile, is how to live well with each other.

Thousands of years and many, MANY philosophers, plays, and religions later, we are still having big conversations on how to live well, and how to live well with each other. Heroes, though specific to a certain demographic, is a reprisal of the many late-night big conversa- tions we’ve all had with friends and family and strangers: long, rambling, engaging discus- sions seeking answers to big and small questions alike; conversations steeped in symbol- ism, story, and metaphor; need and longing, searching for just the right language for full expression; moments in pubs, dorm rooms, cafés, parks, street corners, subway cars, and buses, over wine, whiskey, coffee, beers, and cigarettes… sometimes a joint.

I suspect that an audience of a hundred people will take away a hundred different impres- sions from this play; but I also suspect they will recognize and relate to the deep impulse to seek and question, even if we find ourselves on opposite sides of the question.

Here’s to big conversations!

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