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Using 'The Anthem' to discuss Big Questions with kids - plus a disco ball!

Ayn Rand meets disco balls in dystopian future
Ayn Rand meets disco balls in dystopian future
The Anthem

"The Anthem"


The writing of Ayn Rand has always appealed to hyper-intelligent adolescents, focusing as it does on misunderstood geniuses with ideas far above those of the regular people they're forcibly surrounded with, and encouraging readers to put themselves and their perceived brilliance first, something adolescents tend to do as easily - and eagerly - as breathing.

Though her novels were written and marketed for adults, teenagers and even precocious readers as young as 10 have found them appealing - if somewhat heavy to pull of the shelves - and seemingly endless, especially when you encounter John Galt's allegedly riveting speech at the end of "Atlas Shrugged."

Her shortest, and thus most accessible book for kids is "The Anthem." This story of a dystopian future and rebellious teens has now been dramatized by NYC's Lynn Redgrave Theater Culture Project - with a twist.

For one thing, the original novella doesn't feature quite as many Cirque de Soleil type stunts, black leather to satisfy any fetish, a disco ball that doubles as a fusion bomb, and old school television screens flashing messages like "The Executioner wins," and cartoon-style graphics to indicate Batman-ZOW! level violence. Also, less silver eye make-up.

This is presumably because this production of "The Anthem," which runs through July 6 on 45 Bleecker Street, isn't a direct adaptation, but rather the story of a rebel from a totalitarian society who runs away and is inspired by a copy of Ayn Rand's title, which he just happens to find (it looks like in the remnants of a Broadway subway station, shades of "Planet of the Apes"). It prompts him to invent a light-bulb that will help the State grow fruit. This confuses the State, especially when he suggests that those who are more productive should get more fruit than those who work less, and that people might be able to trade their wares, instead of depending on the State to decide what they need and how much.

While Prometheus, as played by Jason Gotay, most recently "Spiderman: Turn off the Dark's" Peter Parker, is ostensibly the main character, it's the women around him - his "State Sanctioned Love," Hera, his "Golden One" feral forest Queen in a cape, Athena, and "First Citizen," whose non-government approved fondness and indulgence of Prometheus is motivated by a Deep, Dark Secret (TM) - who really drive the story and manipulate the good-natured, overly naive boy for the purpose of their own agendas.

It's a comedy.

And a musical.

Director/choreographer/designer Rachel Klein was going for a "Rocky Horror" theme, and while the actors don't camp it up nearly as much as the stars of the original show (which is a good thing), they do perform with high energy and commitment to the material, not to mention some incredibly powerful voices that often seem too big for the small theater space.

Composer Jonnie Rockwell writes in an introduction that he was inspired by Rand's pitting of "the individual versus the social collective... Ayn Rand raises these ethical and political questions. She only asks that we make our own choices."

The battle between going along with the crowd versus forging your path, letting others make your choices for you versus making your own decisions - and your own mistakes, "We" versus "I" and whether to go for the deceptively sweet librarian that's been picked for you (and a mating time already arranged) versus the aforementioned feral queen in a cape who might only be using you in order to bring down an oppressive power grid, are all questions that confront 21st Century teens and even tweens.

This production of "The Anthem" brings them explicitly to the surface and could serve to open a dialogue between parents and children regarding the big questions: What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of society do you want to live in? And how far would you go to see your vision prevail?

As the characters exult at the end (spoiler alert), "We've saved humanity! Except for all those people we killed...."


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