The Fountainhead: Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Directed by Ivo van Hove

When I made my Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival subscription selections, I hesitated a moment on this show. Four hours of Toneelgroep Amsterdam — as directed by Ivo van Hove — I knew I would enjoy; four hours of the Objectivist doctrines of Ayn Rand, not so much. Turns out I was right. I first read Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, when I was in my late twenties. I had just gone back to school to study art. I was waiting tables for the first time in my life, and the novel made the challenges I was facing for my art seem lofty and noble. The most recent production I saw by Ivo van Hove and Toneelgroep Amerstam was last year’s terrific Kings of War (also at BAM.) If the production and acting was as good as that, I reasoned, then I had to see The Fountainhead. Decision made. As I expected, it was a bit of a durational performance piece at times, mainly due to the unrelenting content of Rand’s text combined with the need to read Dutch surtitles. The show required intense focus and concentration, but it was worth it. The acting was excellent (even more so given the challenge of Ayn Rand’s text) and the innovative staging was fascinating: live sketching on video; live music on stage; a “working” architectural studio — and the “blast” toward the end which was brilliant. The rape scene made me squirm, however, especially in light of the sexual harassment news of today. I wonder if it could have been alluded to without being so explicit, and still made its point? In fact, most of the sex scenes in the show seemed stilted and awkward and hardly added much to the production. The scenes with media-tycoon Gail Wynand especially resonated. His calm acknowledgement of his newspapers’ pandering to the low-brow tastes of the masses — as well as the fortune he had made off of them — was very relevant to our culture today. (What Wynand might have done with social media! Surely he should have run for President!) By the time the performance was winding down, I must admit, I was tiring of the ranting but I agree that the debate is a worthy one: is it better to be an uncompromising individual and stay true to one’s vision at all costs? Or is it more noble to be flexible and cooperative and compromise one’s ideals for the good of all? I think that at different times we need to be able to be a little of both. I hardly think Ayn Rand would agree.

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