Ayn Rand’s ANTHEM at the Baryshnikov Arts Center
What a treat Jeff Britting‘s stage adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and directed by Ann Ciccolella will be for all her fans–Objectivists and Libertarians, and even former Vice President Republican nominee, Paul Ryan who gave Rand credit for his laissez-faire capitalist notions. (Didn’t anyone tell him that Rand was hotly anti-religion?)
It is true that when the rights of an individual are stamped out for the collective good, you have tyranny. Rand experienced this first hand in Russia. Her father, a successful businessman in St. Petersburg, owned a pharmacy and the building it was in. After the October Revolution, his business and property were confiscated, “collectivized,” and Ayn Rand (born Alisa Zinov’yena Rosenbaum) and her family had to flee to the Crimea. When she returned to Petrograd (the new name for St. Petersburg) at times she and her family faced starvation.
In Anthem, individualism has been so suppressed that even names as we know them do not exist. EQUALITY 7-2521, (Matthew Leif Christian) a street sweeper, gets into big trouble thinking for himself in a totalitarian government that not only has even banned romantic love, but electricity, too. (And it’s almost worth it when you see lighting designer, Jason Amato’s gorgeous candlelit scenes.) In this dystopian world where no one is allowed creativity or invention, EQUALITY has the nerve to rediscover electricity, which is now a relic. EQUALITY, like Prometheus, gives light to man.
In the midst of the audience getting a philosophical drubbing, the play comes alive when EQUALITY falls in love with LIBERTY 5-300 (Sophia Lauwers). Watching the lovers onstage, legs entwined, LIBERTY offering EQUALITY an apple, you recognize the layering of Greek and biblical myth, and probably lots more that is too arcane for me to hold forth on. Despite too much heavy-handed symbolism, you feel the sparks flying between the lovers, elicit and redeeming.
Britting, an Ayn Rand archivist and a musician, could have used a genuine playwright in putting this material together. But the show is so visually exciting that it makes up for any deficits. In the background, powerful images flash across a huge screen. Hooded monks in one of the candlelit scenes make you feel as if you are in a medieval painting. And when Equality does a few leaps and sings a few bars, you could imagine how this could be a musical and sing its praises.
Anthem continues through December 1 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th St, Manhattan. For tickets call (866) 811-4111. http://www.anthemtheplay.com/