A heretofore unproduced play from the bin of Ayn Rand, of all people, has opened at the Melrose Theatre. Rand was 29 and a struggling novelist in Hollywood in 1934 when she wrote "Ideal," a play about a movie star and her hypocritical fans.
The production is an ambitious tour de force, an unexpected windfall for Rand devotees and a curiosity piece for everyone else. In "Ideal," with its unmarketable title, you can see the young Rand developing her theme of the superior and heroic individual. Her protagonist (the deliciously coiffed and elegant Janne Peters), is a tall, slender, black-gowned superstar of the silver screen named Kay Gonda, who embodies truth and beauty. But that proves too ideal for her callow idolaters, whose fawning letters entice Gonda to test her fans' integrity.
Rand's forte never was dramatic literature. Her play's clunky structure consists of a prologue set among nervous Hollywood movie executives and six vignettes that embellish on the moral squalor.
The ethereal heroine is playing a dangerous game, setting herself up for a murder rap while hoping to find one fan who will act on his idolatry and highbrow ideals and give her refuge.
Instead, she finds abject hypocrisy--from a small-time businessman (Frank Wiltse), a pair of evangelists (John Rice and an Elmer Gantry-like Melanie Noble), a cynical artist (vividly performed by Rob Wickstrom), a count (an oily, jaded turn by Alan Ribby), and a broke married couple who are zealous Reds (Bernardo Rosa Jr. and Jamie Leigh Allen in the production's comical highlight), willing to betray the star for the reward money--and the greater good of the masses.
Finally, in the play's single affirmation, the desperate actress discovers a pure idealist like herself, a man willing to put his ideals where his mouth is (Keith MacKechnie in an endearing performance).
Michael Paxton's staging and Grant Alkin's cartoonish, fanciful gallery of canvas-painted scenery (unrolling from the flies during blackouts) imaginatively vivify an essentially static play.
The Depression-era flavor is greatly enhanced by Terry Hunter's costume and hair design. His arched eyebrow makeup on svelte actress Peters suggests a young Myrna Loy.
Other flavor comes from Jeff Britting's sound-trackish original music score, from Mary McDonough's gold-digging playgirl and Michael Keller's weary butler, and from huge still projections of the star's humanitarian movie roles.
At 733 N. Seward St., Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m.; through Nov. 19. Tickets: $10-$15; (213) 859-2212.