By: Sandi Durell
Most of us recall reading the book “Anthem” (for many a required high school read). Adapted for the stage by composer and curator of the Ayn Rand Archives, Jeff Britting, the play gives pause to the future world when there is no longer any individuality, but commonality as society has moved from “the unspeakable world” to one of totalitarianism, a government or in this case Council that makes the rules where “we,” not “I” is the spoken reference.
And so it is the Council who decides what lifetime job each is to hold. In the case of Equality 7-2521 (Matthew Lieff Christian) he is a street sweeper; probably because he is too outspoken and knows too much. He finds an old subway tunnel in which to work and discover what was – rediscovering the light bulb and electricity to replace the candles that now light the underground City in which they all reside. And he meets Liberty 5-3000 (Sofia Lauwers) and, in spite of the rules regarding this liason, they fall in love.
All of this is illegal, a transgression – – “What is not done collectively cannot be good . . . it’s not good to be different from your brothers . . . it is evil to be superior . . .”
Democracy 2-5799 (Tina Johnson) was part of the old school and wears a robe with a symbol that she had borne a child. The new mating call takes place in the ‘Palace of Mating,’ happenstance, where children are removed from their mothers.
International 4-8818 (Lelund Durond) plays by the rules and repeats the mantra of the collective. Other cast members include Alex Teicheira and Sarah Walker Thornton as members of the Council and other. Those who don’t play by the rules are dragged out in front of the Council and collective and burned or otherwise disposed.
Since we all have emotions, thoughts and ideas as human beings, and the “I” is stronger than “we,” freedom is the only hope for humankind and so Equality and Liberty take to the forest to find their way out and back to “unmentionable times” and the Garden of Eden!
The production is done on a flat staging surface with large projection screen backdrop and stage lights facing upwards, giving mask-like quality to the actors who often pose above the lights. There’s eerie background music and the 95 minutes move slowly, the dialogue lagging and too plentiful. There seems to be too much attention to proselytizing to the many who already know the scoop, when more attention is needed to acting skills, better enunciation and a more creative approach to telling the story.
Anthem is directed by Ann Ciccolella with scenic design by Kevin Judge, Costumes by Theresa Squire, lighting by Jason Amato, with sound by Anthony Mattana.
The production continues at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, NYC thru December 1st.
www.bacnyc.org 646 731-3200