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Will Arbery’s Heroes

Decades from now, if social historians wonder what it was like to be an American conservative in this tumultuous era, they will consult Will Arbery’s breathtaking new play Heroes Of The Fourth Turning for profound insight. I have not seen the play, but I read the script last night, and I kept thinking: this really can’t be this good, can it?

It is. People like me — politically and religiously conservative — don’t expect to encounter contemporary art about ourselves. Reading Heroes brought to my mind the one other time in my life when I encountered serious art that was about my people: discovering the short stories of Flannery O’Connor in high school. O’Connor wasn’t writing about conservatives per se, but she was writing about Southern country people, and showed that you could make something deep and beautiful and universal out of our ordinary lives and struggles. That’s what Will Arbery has done for today’s political and religious conservatives in Heroes.

What surprises me is that someone so young — Will must be in his late 20s  — could write with such philosophical depth. But it really shouldn’t. I know Will’s parents, Glenn and Virginia Arbery, described by Will in an interview thus:

“I grew up with two extremely articulate, brilliant, poetic thinkers for parents; from a very young age it was very clear they were very Catholic, very conservative,” Arbery said. “But it was always poetic—I don’t know how else to describe it. It was thoughtful, it had gravitas, it was formidable.”

Yes indeed. Glenn and Ginny are two of the most amazing people you could ever hope to meet. I last saw Will over a decade ago at the Arbery house in Dallas, where we had gone to dinner. Sweet little Will, the only boy in a menagerie of eight children. When he reached out to me a couple of weeks ago to say he had written a play, and that The Benedict Option figured in it, and that he would like me to come see it, I thought, “Wait, he’s only 16 years old by now, right?”

Uh, wrong. Where does the time go? Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to see the play in its Off Broadway run (at Playwrights Horizon, through October 27), but Will did agree to send me the script, which I read last night. Look, I have no idea how much of his family’s Catholicism and/or conservatism will has retained into adulthood, but this play is deeply informed about the lives and thoughts of young Catholic conservatives in post-Christian America.

The thing is, Will doesn’t write about them in a cliched way, e.g., Catholic playwright moves to New York and vomits up vicious dramas denouncing the hypocrisies of his religiously conservative upbringing. He writes critically of his characters, but the criticism is more about trying to understand why they believe the things they do in the ways that they do. He cares about these characters. He cares about them, because he must have known them growing up. Maybe there’s some of each of them within him. I felt that way myself, reading the play. The thing is, though it’s a play about four conservative Catholics in their twenties (and one in his late 30s), Arbery writes in such a way as to draw in and challenge thoughtful progressives. Heroes is not a play that offers virtue signaling or simple answers.

The Catholic theologian Chad Pecknold saw Heroes recently, and wrote about it in the Catholic Herald. Excerpt:

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. He is not just interested in telling a richly drawn story about an ensemble of conservative Catholics in Wyoming, but he seems also interested in telling a story that starts “a big conversation” about sacrifice, suffering and community — about God, good and evil, and America. In fact, to underscore this point, the play opens with one of the characters praying at dawn, taking up his rifle, and killing a deer whose bleeding corpse he lays upon the porch where the story unfolds — literally performing the play upon blood sacrifice that the characters repeatedly cross over with their own agonies and ecstasies.

The title of the play, “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” comes from William Strauss and Neil Howe’s best-selling 1996 book “The Fourth Turning,” which argued that American history goes through 80 year cycles which each involve four turns, following the trajectory of life itself: growth, maturation, entropy, and destruction — repeat. “Teresa,” a young Bannonist blogger living in Brooklyn, tells her friends “we’re all being called to be heroes because history goes in generational cycles…[over] four turnings. Each one of them is a couple of decades.” She explains to her friends that the first turning starts high, the second is an awakening, and the third is an unraveling.

“Unraveling is weird,” Teresa tells them. “It’s like, we break into different camps. Institutions aren’t trusted anymore, and there’s a ton of emphasis on personal freedom – but more like, license. Things get a little decadent. People go off into their different camps. Culture wars. 80s, 90s.

“Then comes Crisis. That’s the fourth turning. It’s destruction, it’s revolution, it’s war. The nation almost doesn’t survive. Great example is the Civil War, and the economic crisis before that. Or the Great Depression into World War II. And it’s right now. The national identity crisis caused by Obama. Liberals think it’s Trump. It’s the fight to save civilization. People start to collectivize and turn against each other. It seems like everything’s ending – we’re all gonna die. No one trusts each other. But the people who do trust each other form crazy bonds. Somehow we get through it, we rise from the ashes, and breach back into a High.

“And those four turnings make a saeculum.” Teresa wants to reassure her friends that what looks like bad news — crisis — is really good news, as they are the heroes who will inaugurate a new high.

The four main characters — Teresa, Kevin, Emily, and Justin — are all graduates of Transfiguration College in Wyoming (based on the real-life Wyoming Catholic College), and have gathered for the installation of their favorite professor, Gina (based on Will’s mother Ginny), as president of the school. The drama unfolds in Justin’s backyard after the ceremony. The old friends are drinking and talking, and taking the measure of their time. There is all around them a sense of mounting social crisis — Teresa calls it a coming “war”. Offstage, Justin’s electric generator occasionally screeches, adding a demonic sense of menace (“War, children, it’s just a shot away/It’s just a shot away” — Gimme Shelter).

What is the nature of this war? And what should their response be? Each of the characters has a take.

Teresa is an Ann Coulter type. She lives in New York, writes a popular right-wing blog, and is admittedly ambitious. She is engaged to be married, and regards herself as one of life’s winners, and a warrior. She rebukes Kevin for being a “soy boy,” and puts him down as a loser who will never amount to anything until and unless he mans up. (She’s not wrong, either, as we see.) She admires Steve Bannon, and believes that in the coming war, conservatives (and Christians, and white people) have to fight. Though the play is set in 2017, she would be a total Ahmarist in the current French-Ahmari debate — but the Iranian-born Ahmari’s lack of whiteness might be a problem for her. Oh, and she’s also a cokehead.

That said, don’t take Teresa as a simple villain (none of his characters are that). Arbery gives her some great lines. Late in the play, Teresa gets into an argument with Gina, her old professor, over what Catholic conservatives are supposed to do in response to the current crisis. Gina is deeply conservative, and not an establishment Republican (we learn that she hosted a Pat Buchanan meeting in her home in the 1990s), but she has no regard for the Trump people. She regards them as untrustworthy radicals. Here, Teresa lays out her response to her professor:

Not being measured. Not being polite. I don’t want to be polite anymore. We can’t lie to ourselves. We’re past that. We’re in Crisis. They’re coming for our tabernacle. They want to burn it down. They want to destroy the legacy of heroes like you. So I propose leveling up. I propose looking at the truth in the face. Knowing what it looks like. Knowing what we look like to them. It’s not going anywhere. I propose not taking any shit. Not ignoring all the hypocritical bullshit. Going blow for blow. And being ready for the war, if it happens. When it happens. You call us racist, we’ll call you racist. You call us white, we’ll call you black. You call us Nazis, we’ll call you abortionists and eugenicists. You call us ignorant Christians, we’ll call you spineless hedonistic soulless bloviating bloodbags. But you stop doing that, and give this thing space and time to work itself out, we’ll stop too. You focus your efforts on making this a better nation, an American nation, a republic of ideas, we will too.

Earlier, Teresa lays into Emily, Gina’s daughter, who suffers from a disease that leaves her in constant pain. Emily is a peacemaker, and a former volunteer at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center in Chicago. But she defends her friend Olivia, who works for Planned Parenthood. Emily believes that Olivia is a good person who is doing something wicked. Teresa won’t have it:

TERESA
You’re allowed to like your abortionist friend Olivia. But you’re not allowed to tell me that she’s equally as good as you. That the work you were doing in Chicago and the work she’s doing in D.C. are equal. She’s contributing to a genocide. A pogrom.
She’s on the wrong side.
You’re on the right side.
You are the good in this world, girl.
And you know it’s true.

EMILY
Well I feel like all I’m asking for, all I’m ASKING for, is just a bigger dose of empathy—

TERESA
Oh don’t with the empathy. Liberals are empathy addicts. Empathy empathy empathy.

Empathy is empty. Hannah Arendt says we don’t need to feel what someone else is feeling – first of all that’s impossible, second of all it’s self-righteous and breeds complacency, third of all it’s politically irresponsible. Empathize with someone and suddenly you’re erasing the boundaries of your own conscience, suddenly you’re living under the tyranny of their desires. We need to know how to think how they’re thinking. From a distance.

More:

TERESA
She’s thinking: “hi, okay, I’m Olivia, I’m such a good person for helping all these women, I’m so great, and you’re about to get an abortion and you’re so great, and we’re all so great, and now let’s go into this room and do this thing and your doctor is so great, and oh btw if you start to wonder if there’s another presence here, someone small and silent with us, someone who could be just as great as us but will never have the chance, push that down, push it away, don’t think about it, we’re the great ones, here and now, because we say so.”

Amen, sister! Emily is swamped with her own suffering — so much so that her empathy clouds her ability to think clearly. On the other hand, Teresa is so Ayn Rand-like that she has developed a contempt for suffering, except in the abstract (e.g., the suffering of the unborn child). You come to see Teresa’s martial rhetoric not as real courage, but as a form of escapism — a take vindicated, I believe, by a personal disclosure late in the play.

That disclosure puts the training Teresa received at the Great Books Catholic college into a certain light. This is true of all the characters. Did Teresa learn how to think rigorously, but came to believe that her faith and her reason were nothing but weapons? In Emily’s case, has her suffering made her so empathetic that she cannot think clearly? Is her peacemaking really an attempt to keep the demons of rage at injustice and suffering in check, to keep them from overwhelming her ability to cope with life?

In Kevin’s case, he failed to launch after his education. He suffers from a lack of courage — this he admits — and from addictions that lay waste to his powers. He does not know what to do with his life. He is lukewarm, and the only passion he has is self-loathing. Justin is older than the rest of the group by a decade — he came to the college as an older student, after a stint in the Marines and a divorce — and has an outlook tempered by wisdom. He’s a strong, silent, cowboy type. Here, Kevin and Justin argue over the Benedict Option:

 

KEVIN
Yeah but look Emily I mean your parents are trying to like save the country basically. Like they’re basically the opposite of the Benedict Option – they’re going into the world rather than retreating—

JUSTIN
Oh I like The Benedict Option.

EMILY
 What is that?

KEVIN
A book that says we’re not gonna win this thing and we should just retreat.

JUSTIN
No that’s an oversimplification.

KEVIN
Whatever it’s so spineless.

JUSTIN
You don’t think Transfiguration College of Wyoming is the epitome of the Benedict Option?

KEVIN
 What?

JUSTIN
Smack dab in the middle of the least populated state in the union, six hours from the nearest urban area. Our school didn’t accept federal funding.

KEVIN
Okay well maybe this is my point, then: the school’s explicit mission was to train me to be a leader in the world, but I was not ready for the world. It’s been seven years and this whole time I’ve been paralyzed. What have I done with all of it? Maybe I need to get spanked around a little bit. Maybe I need to move to New York like Teresa did and just like, dive in.

More:

KEVIN

Okay well maybe this is my point, then: the school’s explicit mission was to train me to be a leader in the world, but I was not ready for the world. It’s been seven years and this whole time I’ve been paralyzed. What have I done with all of it? Maybe I need to get spanked around a little bit. Maybe I need to move to New York like Teresa did and just like, dive in.

JUSTIN
 No.

KEVIN
 What

JUSTIN
Stay away from New York. Deepen your spiritual life, and get away from urban temptations.

KEVIN
Maybe what I need is more urban temptations.

JUSTIN
 What?

KEVIN
Maybe repression makes me a worse person.

JUSTIN
 No sir.

KEVIN
Maybe I need to be in the den of lions, in order to really be the Catholic I was meant to be. Like there are some priests, like Jesuits, who thrive in that kind of environment. Ugh do I need to be a priest?

JUSTIN
Maybe. But I don’t know if you need to do that in a den of lions.

KEVIN
 Why?

JUSTIN
Well, as one example… cities are obviously hubs of LGBT activity, and I don’t think it’s healthy to be around LGBT activity.

KEVIN
Why – do you think I’d become gay?

JUSTIN
I just think proximity to LGBT is a threat to Christian children and families. Exposure makes you porous to infection. And all this babble about gender being fluid and non-binary. We are living in barbaric times.

KEVIN
But why can’t we meet it, engage with it—

JUSTIN
Because it’s hard to confront people who you know won’t change.

KEVIN
What’s wrong with it being hard? It should be hard.

JUSTIN
And all the power is on their side. All the bureaucracy, and soon – all the laws. Everyone working for any business or public school will be frog-marched through diversity and inclusion training. It won’t just be about tolerating, which we do, it will be about affirming their disorder. Which is a sin.

KEVIN
I don’t disagree. So what do you propose?

JUSTIN
Stay among the like-minded.

KEVIN
You want us to just become a quivering bubble of Christian cowards?

JUSTIN
Wow. No. I want us to put our heads down, preserve our culture, and wait for the hedonists to eat themselves alive.

KEVIN
Well maybe I want to save some of the hedonists.

Keep in mind these lines were written by a Catholic playwright whose father is president of the real-life Transfiguration College, and whose mother teaches there. He’s a playwright who lives in New York City, and who could hardly be more immersed in the artistic life of the nation’s cultural capital. He is also a straight man who has said, in interviews, that growing up in a house full of women, he was conscious of thought some had that he would surely be gay. This, Will has said, gave him a sense of what it’s like to be an outsider.

I say this so you’ll know that the author of this play surely does not side with Justin. On the other hand, the character who did go off to New York, Teresa, has become something of a monster. And Kevin says that he might want to save some of the hedonists, but this does not ring true. He can’t even save himself. This line comes off as the rationalization of a guilt-wracked young Catholic man who is trying to talk himself out of inertia.

There’s a great exchange between Kevin and Justin, in which Kevin is working himself up to act:

KEVIN
Yes. Pathetic and
At any moment, I feel this – I
Justin, seriously, I’m think I’m in love with… I fall in love with SO MANY

This college was the only thing keeping me from, just, dissolv
Just watch, I’m gonna get cut loose – and I’m whipping over into the

You know, The World And I might love it.

JUSTIN
This is the world.

Boom! All of us have known Kevin. Many of us have been Kevin at some time in our lives. Like so many anxious young people, Kevin thinks that the “world” is something Out There, that life — sorry, Life — is elsewhere. Justin — older, wiser Justin — wants him to wake up and see that the world, and life, is all around him, all around all of us. New York is no more or no less the world than small-town Wyoming. The drama of life and death, of salvation and damnation, of faith and reason and judgment and mercy — it’s all happening everywhere, all the time. Kevin’s concept of the world as a place and state of being foreign to him is an illusion that allows him to avoid himself, and the difficult choices that he needs to make to grow up.

You see why this is a play about Catholic conservatives, but is really universal?

The play calls its protagonists “heroes,” a designation that’s somewhat ironic — none of them seem like heroes — but that characterizes the challenges facing those of their generation in a time of fragmentation and loss of meaning. History calls on them to be heroes — but what does that mean? Fight, flight, or something in between?

The tenderest and most challenging parts of the play have to do with the metaphysics of suffering and limitation. Justin, who is 38, practices a stance of fundamental gratitude for life — a position that we are given to believe he won only through experiencing violence, suffering, and the grace of mercy shown to him when he did not deserve it. Emily, Gina’s daughter, has been carrying the cross of her physical pain. In this exchange, she and Justin talk about the body, and the inability of people in our culture to accept limitation and pain as part of the human condition:

EMILY
I want to say: begotten not made. For me it’s just that. Begotten not made. We are given ourselves. There’s a mystery in the givenness. And we’re sharing that givenness with God. And I don’t judge them, and I’m not saying they’re bad people at all. But I do feel these days that it’s like… it’s like it’s popular to reject the truth of ourselves as given.

More:

JUSTIN
Your dad was saying and I thought it was brilliant that it’s this Cartesian “neo-Gnosticism” that convinces people that their souls are somehow separate from their bodies, and their bodies can somehow be fashioned however they like.

EMILY
Oh that’s beautiful J, that’s so — my body is so much a part of me I can’t even begin And I didn’t choose this, my body is just a friggin
prairie of pain,
and I can’t choose to make it go away
It’s just what I’ve been given.

What do we do with this pain? Do we fight it? Do we accept it? Is there a way to turn it into something beautiful? How can we be sure that what seems like a healthy way of handling it is not, in fact, a delusion that sets us up for disaster? In a shocking turn near the play’s end, Arbery suggests that the inability to come to terms with the fact of limits, and the reality of evil and injustice, will bring about a sudden manifestation of savage violence that we will not see coming. As Jagger and Richards put it, “Rape, murder!/It’s just a shot away.”

Heroes pits Justin against Kevin, arguing the question about whether or not Catholic conservatives should plunge into the world (the “World”) or live at its periphery. It also pits Justin against Teresa on the question of whether an active fight with secular liberals is something our side can win. It’s important to remember that Justin is a Marine, not a soy boy like Kevin:

JUSTIN
I wanted to say something about the liberal… The nice young liberal people. And the system.

TERESA
 Okay what.

JUSTIN
So these nice young liberal people are blinded by a system that distracts them from true moral questions and re-focuses their attention onto fashionable and facile questions of identity and choice, which gender do you want to be today?, how much sex can you have today?, how many babies do you want? and how do you want them to look?, which is really all part of a larger ideological system that is rooted in an evil, early 20th-century quote unquote progressive trend towards quote unquote perfection, eugenics, and crypto-racism, endorsed by Margaret Sanger, an American eugenics system which persists, which wants to eliminate anything unclean or imperfect, including black babies and Down syndrome babies, and create a sterilized world based around state-mandated pleasure and narcissism. These are just facts, look it up y’all.

I can honestly say that, having lived in that world, and being a 38 year-old nomad, I can guarantee that 99% of them are willing to just be led blindly into the cave, hooked up to a heroin drip of self-satisfied digital activism and committing vile acts of self-gratification because they’re told that it’s important to “experience” life, when actually they’re numbing themselves to the possibility of real sacrifice or any chance of an ethical life, rooted in the grit and toil of suffering in the name of Christ.

And: there are more of them. We lost the popular vote, by a lot. Despite the indulgences afforded us by our wealthy backers and our electoral loopholes, we lack a unified youth movement. And they have that. And they’re mobilizing. In many ways, they are in power. And they’re trying to wipe us out. They’re wishing for our death. And the only way to survive is to block them out, to focus on the Lord. Try to outlive them. Bake bread, make wine, work the earth, shelter wanderers, and survive.

TERESA
You talk like they’re In Power. But they’re not in power. We are.

JUSTIN
Maybe for now—

TERESA
No, and there are more of us, too. There are. We just aren’t as loud, and we don’t have control of the media. And we need to come together to fight, not to bake bread. It’s honestly baffling to me that someone as strong as you would already be giving up the fight when it’s barely begun—

Is that true, Teresa’s assertion that the Right simply hasn’t gathered its forces? Or is Justin’s analysis correct? Notice that they agree on the diagnosis; it’s the response that divides them. This dispute is not so much Ahmari vs. French as Ahmari vs. Dreher. (N.B., in real life, Sohrab and I are friends, as are Teresa and Justin.) Teresa believes that Justin is giving up the fight, but Justin conceives the battle in different terms — and that conditions his response. To put it another way — and this becomes clear in the dramatic ending — Teresa thinks that we are in a cultural and political war, but Justin believes that the essence of the war is spiritual. He plainly doesn’t deny that there are political and cultural dimensions to the war, but to him, this is primarily about spiritual warfare.

It is a strength of this play that Will Arbery doesn’t tell his audience what to think. None of these characters has the answer. As I said, Will himself moved to New York City, and that has given him insight into the temptations of throwing oneself into the lion’s den without proper spiritual preparation. He clearly doesn’t believe that his character Justin’s way was the way for him, but I find myself thinking about Justin’s past as a Marine combat veteran and a divorced man, and how these things affected his view of culture war, and his role in it as a Catholic.

Every conservative should ponder this exchange between restless Kevin and Gina, the new college president and his old professor. Gina at times comes across as exactly what Teresa says she is — out of touch with contemporary political realities. But she also is a voice of older conservative wisdom, of a kind of conservatism that is, as Russell Kirk said, “a negation of ideology.” The fact that Gina is not and never has been an Establishment conservative gives her a lot of credibility here. Here’s how the exchange begins:

KEVIN
All we know how to do is make things Catholic. That’s all you taught us how to do. At other schools, they allow for different conclusions. But here, we’re in the pursuit of the same conclusion – what you want isn’t different conclusions, you want better poetry to get us to the same place. You chide us for not being imaginative, but you kick us out of school for smoking a joint. But there’s a whole side to life that we’re just pushing down. Like can’t we be Catholic and not, uh…

TERESA
Kevin what are you talking about

GINA
No, shush Teresa
This is beautiful Kevin, you’re so close…
Hm I want to answer
Hm, a little tipsy myself, Kevin, but let me try to…

Honey, of course we allow for different conclusions. But to focus on the conclusions is to miss the point. What we’re after is the slow pursuit. The thrill of reason and rhetoric, prayer and poetry — a slow working out — taking apart the clock and putting it back together — hearing the music of its ticking with fresh ears and precise new understanding.

And God, let the understanding be slow.

Progressivism moves too fast and forces change and constricts liberty. Gridlock is beautiful. In the delay is deliberation and true consensus. If you just railroad something through because you want it done, that’s the passion of the mob. Delaying is the structure of the republic, which is structured differently in order to offset the dangers of democracy. I believe in slowness, gridlock.

The space between the cup and the lip. Martin Diamond talked about this.

The little space between the cup and the lip. Just waiting a little longer to taste the wine…

After reading the startling conclusion, it hit me that Will Arbery has written a contemporary stage version of Dostoevsky’s Demons (also known in English as The Possessed). His characters are trying to figure out how to live and what to do in an era of tumult and transition, in which everybody knows, deep down, that some kind of war is coming — and indeed, is at the gates. In my case, I hear this over and over from people. I believe it’s true, though whether this is a metaphorical war or actual violence, I can’t say. It is most definitely a spiritual war, and Arbery seems to understand that in the same way that Dostoevsky did of his own era. Teresa, Kevin, and Emily all seemed to be possessed, in a sense, by characteristic spirits of our time. Gina is a voice of capital-R Reason, informed by Faith, though the play does not present her as an oracle. She is clearly out of touch with the times … but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Justin is a flawed character, but he seems to be the most grounded, and the one who has gained the most from suffering, and from the wisdom of his college education in the Greats.

Playwright Will Arbery

This is not to say that Justin’s is the voice of Will Arbery. It’s clearly not, and the path Justin has laid out for his own life — we discover it in a surprise disclosure at the end — is not the path that everyone can or should take. It might not even be the right way for him. It is very much a Ben Op kind of solution, though. It raises the question of what, exactly, does it mean to be a hero in a war like this one? There are revelations in the play’s final moments that make your blood run cold, as you realize how close we are to possession by the legions that, to use a very Catholic phrase, prowl about seeking the ruin of souls. And: there will be blood.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone — progressive, conservative, everyone — walks out of Heroes Of The Fourth Turning without the conviction that somehow, they have to change their life. This is the kind of work that will inspire intense debates long after the stage lights go down. Will Arbery takes chances in this play that are so audacious you just shake your head at the ballsiness of it all. I found myself reading passages aloud to my wife last night, saying, “Can you believe this?” It tells you something about the quality of this drama that lines like those I’ve quoted above are now being spoken on the New York stage. That a pro-life Catholic who voted for Pat Buchanan is a voice of wisdom in an Off Broadway play. Will Arbery has made this happen, through sheer artistry and depth of moral vision. This play is not to be missed, but if you can’t get to it in New York during its current run (which ends October 27), don’t worry; it will be performed in many places for years to come. This is not ideological sloganeering; this is art. This is the real thing. I can’t think of a single novel, film, or play that better illustrates the spirits of our culture war than Heroes Of The Fourth TurningPlays like this aren’t supposed to be written. But there it is, a kind of miracle.

UPDATE: In reading the comments, I’m kind of amazed that some people think the lines Will Arbery gives to his characters represent his own beliefs. I have no idea if will considers himself to be a conservative; I’m going to interview him about the play, and we’ll find out. Remember that he is an artist creating characters that represent the kinds of people he grew up with, and their points of view. And if the “arguments” made by these characters don’t sound sophisticated to you, you have to remember that he’s not writing about William F. Buckley, but creating characters who talk like real people.

Moreover, please note that I’ve only quoted parts of the play where the philosophical and political conflicts between the characters manifest most sharply. These conflicts are embedded in the messy lives of the characters. They aren’t ideological stick figures. That’s a big reason that the play is so powerful. Anyone who has spent any time on the Right, especially among conservative Christians, knows people like these characters.

 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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