AUSTIN AND NEW YORK CITY: Ayn Rand is tap dancing her way from Texas to the Big Apple—not personally, of course, but via Rude Mechs’ Stop Hitting Yourself, which will run Jan. 13–Feb. 23 at the Claire Tow Theater, after two workshops in the company’s Austin hometown. Commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3 program, the play examines Rand’s objectivist philosophy in the manner of a ’30s film musical. Audiences have a chance to hear confessionals from the cast, bask in the glow of a giant queso fountain, and possibly walk away with some extra cash (if they don’t mind a little public humiliation).
True to Rude Mechs’ collaborative approach, the style of the piece comes from various ideas the ensemble brought to the table. “We were driven by pleasure a lot. People wanted to learn to tap dance,” notes writer Kirk Lynn, one of the collective’s six co-producing artistic directors. “The inspiration of the 1930s Gold Diggers musicals really drove us into bigger characters and more plot.” The title developed out of “Celebrate Thanksgiving the Ayn Rand Way: Thank Yourself,” a Christian Science Monitor article by Debi Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif.
Stop Hitting Yourself isn’t the first time the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead has appeared on a Manhattan stage in the past year. Last January Mike Daisey offered the pointedly titled monologue Fucking Fucking Fucking Ayn Rand, and in April Wolf 359 mounted Song of a Convalescent Ayn Rand Giving Thanks to the Godhead (in the lydian mode), both at Joe’s Pub in New York City. And the Rudes (who derived their name from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and who presented Lynn’s Fixing King John in November at their home base) join another troupe from the Texas state capital with ties to the Bard. The Austin Shakespeare Theatre Company staged Rand’s early novel Anthem, adapted by Jeff Britting, curator of the Ayn Rand Archives, in October at the Jerome Robbins Theater at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.
Incidentally, Anthem was Stop Hitting Yourself’s main inspiration. “We had been talking about this scenic diptych of an industrial/urban environment and a forest environment, and it reminded me of Anthem,” cast member and co-producing artistic director Lana Lesley explains.
“We were interested in some intersection between nature and capital and between compassion and altruism. Probably Ayn Rand was in the air because Paul Ryan offered so publicly that he was a follower,” Lynn adds. “And Rand is amazing, so intelligent and so feral. So high on speed so often in public (look at her eyes in her interviews) saying the wildest stuff. It’s like a right-wing Jim Morrison.” Ayn Rand, Lizard Queen?