It’s hard to know what Ayn Rand would have thought about devised theater — its cooperative ethos probably would have rankled her individualistic spirit. Which is one reason it’s surprising that theater artist Ran Xia chose Rand’s novella Anthem as the subject of her new company-created piece, [ai].
It’s also tough to see the attractions this crushingly repetitive tale holds, even for fans of such an ideologically extreme writer. In the story, a smart young man known by the mass-produced moniker of Equality 7-2521 (Adrian Burke) rebels against a futuristic totalitarian world where individuality is taboo. Spurning his government-dictated vocation as a street sweeper, he illegally pursues knowledge, finding the forgotten world of electricity and escaping his subsequent prison sentence to seek freedom with his loyal girlfriend, Liberty 5-3000 (Daniela Rivera). As an outcast, he makes the biggest discovery of all: his culture’s one truly forbidden word, the dreaded (you guessed it) “I.”
The ensemble, sincere and resourceful, evokes setting and atmosphere through collaborative movement on a bare stage. But the breathy, synchronized choreography comes closer to conjuring the ambiance of an acting class than that of an absolutist regime. Likewise, it’s a little unclear what they hope we’ll take from Rand’s flat fable. A reminder of the importance of “I” might not be quite what our own culture needs.
Written and directed by Ran Xia
The Brick Theater
579 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn