Dan Pfau and Jessie Barr in Ideal
(© Avery McCarthy)
Dan Pfau and Jessie Barr in Ideal
(© Avery McCarthy)
Ayn Rand's controversial philosophies were honed and popularized in her two most famous novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Before those books came into being, however, the young and struggling author tried her hand at playwriting, such as 1934's Ideal, now being given an earnest but uneven production at 59E59 Theatres under Jenny Beth Snyder's direction. It's an intriguing if flawed work, in which one can see the artist in her formative stages, combining plot, character, and most important, ideas into a coherent (if lumbering) structure.

Even this early in her career, Rand knew that if she wanted to sell her intellectual concepts to the world she would need to dress them up in a compelling narrative. Her plot centers around a fabulously popular Hollywood star named Kay Gonda (Jessie Barr), who may or may not have murdered a wealthy businessman named Mr. Sayers. When rumors about her involvement in the death of Sayers hit the newspapers, Kay goes on the run, taking with her six very particular fan letters.

The play's structure becomes her visits, in turn, to each of the letter writers. These are her most dedicated admirers and she goes to them, ostensibly, for their help in hiding her from the police. One is a meek married man who simply adores her in the way movie stars have always been adored.

But the others begin to have more political/social/cultural baggage and their reasons for either helping her or not become more complicated -- and more intricately connected to Rand's philosophies. If these meetings with her fans become labored -- and the writing is often heavy-handed, hokey, and high-falutin' -- the surprise payoff at the end helps make it all a bit more palatable.

While even Sir Laurence Olivier couldn't credibly deliver some of the lines in this play, better performances among this cast of a dozen actors (many of whom play at least two roles) might increase our willingness to suspend disbelief. Among those who rise to the occasion are Elizabeth Alderfer, who plays a tough communist named Fanny who rationalizes her need for money at the expense of her ideals; Ted Caine, who plays George Perkins, a husband and father who plays it safe rather than follow the yearning in his soul; and Dan Pfau, who shines in his roles as Mick, Gonda's right hand man, and a lost soul named Johnnie.