If Wives imperfectly represents the latter type of play, then Playwrights Horizons’s second production in their season, Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning, constitutes the sort of play that delves into politics with a different approach, where a playwright dissects a hot-button issue through a set of established arguments. Each character voices a specific, often conflicting — and conflicted — perspective, and the bulk of the text pits them
head-to-head mouth-to-mouth in dialogue. In some cases, it can feel like a playwright’s staging a dialectical discourse with themself, with their characters as veiled mouthpieces for the views they spout.
This kind of writing raises questions concerning the nature of identity and belief. Do our beliefs define who we are, or does who we are determine our beliefs? Which is an outgrowth of which? What these plays tell and show us about their characters’s lives speaks to the relationship between their pronounced politics and their personalities, decisions, behavior, and everything else that encompasses who they are.
There are usually other elements to interpret, but on a fundamental level, both Wives-esque plays and Heroes of the Fourth Turning-esque plays are rooted in expressing sociopolitical ideologies, albeit towards distinct ends. Heroes shuffles through a variety of political debates, combatively bouncing them off each other like a transparent puppeteer of provocation, without explicitly taking a side. Wives, on the other hand, takes a clear side, and it feels designed to forward and explicate this one stance from beginning to end, like a thesis with each part a supporting example.