Liz Aldefer, Jessie Barr, Ted Caine, Bill Griffin, Sean Ireland, Lee Kasper, Emily Marrow, Cara Massey, Dan Pfau, Kim Rosen, Ariana Seigel, Carly Walsh, Andrew Young
Jenny Beth Snyder
The passage of years and the cult-like growth of Ayn Rands reputation unintentionally morphs her 1934 stage play Ideal from a meandering philosophical drama to a wonderful piece of satire and homage to the movies of the 1930s. I am sure Ms. Rand would not approve, but as staged at 59E59 theater, Ideal is a hilarious black comedy and a rollicking good time if you choose to go with it.
If taken seriously, Ideal is a heavy-handed screed about the narcissistic worldview of self-important artists in an age when the average person is struggling to survive the Great Depression. It is serious and a little dull. However, when Ideal is viewed as Ayn Rands melodramatic and disdainful take on the motion picture industry of the 1930s, it is raucously funny.
Before becoming a pinup girl for raging capitalists and tea party conservatives the world over, Ayn Rand was a frustrated screenwriter, and her frustration rages throughout Ideal. The play concerns a famous European actress, Kay Gonda, who yearns to be more than a movie star (rather obviously written as a Greta Garbo or early Marlene Dietrich type, but clearly a reference to Ayn Rand herself, a European refugee of Soviet Russia).
The play opens in the office of afrantic studio boss, a maniac surrounded by bad PR flacks and bitter associates. The audience learns that his most famous star, Kay Gonda, is on the lamb, running from a murder investigation. Miss Gondas secretary shows up to inform the audience that the actress came by the house sometime last night to take six fan letters from her desk.
Why six? Why, so she can visit six people and participate in six vignettes, as any black and white picture fan would know. In these six moments, she shows up in the middle of a series of stereotypical Hollywood problems of the 1930s, a disillusioned husband, tortured artist, and down-on-his-luck playboy among them. Echoes of Barbara Stanwyck, Norma Shearer, William Warren and Marie Dressler scream out from the stage. But the author twists the easy set -ps into arbitrary blackness, proving that she is above the mediocrity of other playwrights of her time.
Ayn Rands inflated opinion of herself, her dismissal of the petit bourgeoisie of Hollywood (after they ignored her), and her attempt to poison the artificial plots, all of these unintentional motives layer upon each other too thick to ignore. Ideal ultimately ends up being an homage to the very medium she is trying to disparage. It is hilarious, sometimes purposefully and often accidently.
As Kay Gonda, Jessie Barr stand outs in the cast. She captures the self-importance and bitterness of the role wonderfully. The author really doesnt seem to like this character, and Miss Barr has no problem dishing up a vapid, self-deluded character while still imbibing her with charisma.
The other members of the cast play multiple roles. Unfortunately, as a rule, the cast members are way too young to play these roles. They do a fine job generally, but their youth often works against them. Three of the ensemble, (Kim Rosen, Andrew Young and Dan Pfau) succeed in overcoming this wonderfully, by ignoring the age issues and plunging headlong into the characters. Dan Pfau is especially effective in wearing his emotions like a worn out raincoat.
Director Jenny Beth Synder does a good job of moving the show along and assigning the right attitude to each of the vignettes, but the real star here is Ayn Rand at her self-important and world-weary best. If this sound like something you might like, hurry to 59E59; Ideal is a hoot.