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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

In Context: The Fountainhead





Belgian director Ivo van Hove offers a brutal reexamination of Ayn Rand’s notorious paean to radical individualism, a saga of sex, architecture, and skybound ambition. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of related articles and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #BAMNextWave.

Program Notes

Coming soon!

Read

Featured Collection
Ivo van Hove (Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive)
Peruse content from the BAM Hamm Archives detailing van Hove's storied career at BAM since 2008.

Interview
A War of Ideas: The Fountainhead (The Brooklyn Rail)
"I have to admit, I had never heard of Ayn Rand. Shocking, but true," notes van Hove.

Article
Me First (BAMblog)
How does van Hove square his admiration for Rand’s Great Man fanaticism with being a good socialist European?

Article
Theater Laid Bare (The New Yorker)
Ivo van Hove’s raw productions bring out the elemental drama of classic works.

Watch & Listen

Video
Toneelgroep Amsterdam verovert de wereld - Reportage Nieuwsuur (YouTube)Go backstage with Toneelgroep Amsterdam and its production of The Fountainhead.

Now your turn...

How did you enjoy the show? Likes? Dislikes? Objectivist surprises? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #BAMNextWave.

31 comments:

  1. I was expecting ivo van hove to further explore the simularity of contemporary global politics, ego and greed rampant in society today.

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  2. Having to read the text meant that I really couldn't watch the scenes and actors performing. A disappointment. It was like a reading with music.

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  3. Three hours of exposition followed by one hour of preaching, frothing, textblather polemic. One cannot but admire the production's verve but the text is so off-the-rails crazy that it ends up feeling incoherent. Four hours I'll never get back.

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  4. The play is slick, hollow, over-produced, and fails to provide any insight into the mixture of explicitly rational philosophy and unexamined emotion that underlay Ayn Rand's worldview.

    But far worse is the long, explicit rape scene which - in the absence of any context or comment and in the presence of the play's slick production values - serves to normalize and endorse sexual violence. The fact that the scene may be faithful to the source is no excuse. The book is a flawed work, and the art in any attempt to bring it to life on stage would lie in creatively commenting on its strengths, weaknesses, and outright pathologies.

    Romanticizing rape is simply not acceptable, and BAM should know better than to be part of such an exercise.

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    1. I was especially offended, disturbed by the rape scene. I felt complicit in an act that is aberrant. I didn't like anything about the production not the set, lighting, acting, the music. I've seen plays with subtitles and have not been bothered by them but such was not the case with this production. I left after the intermission.

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  5. My high hopes for continued genius from Toneelgroep were dashed at this truly boring and tiresome performance.
    It was exactly as monotonous,lackluster and musguided as Rand's relentless prose though; so in that way I guess it was a great success.

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  6. Amazing. One of the best plays I've ever seen. And it reminded me of why I fell in love with the novel in the first place. Great acting, great sound designed, and the obsession of Ivo Van Hove with machines gets deeper and deeper with this tour the force of a play!

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  7. A absolutely amazing work!!! The best piece of theatre at BAM for a very very long time now. Very disappointed by the audience's reactions and in many cases immaturity. Made me think a lot about the cultural distance between European and American theatre although BAM's audience is considered of the most diverse and cultivated. It was sad that people were actually laughing or feeling uncomfortable or eating chips inside the theatre during the most sensitive and heartbreaking moments. This was a masterpiece of modern theatre, on a core existential matter and particularly the arts. I feel absolutely blessed and lucky to have seen this brilliant edgy and poetic work! Thank you BAM for bringing it. I hope you will bring every single work of Ivo van Hove to us!

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  8. I'm not a Rand fan and expected a challenge. Loved the dynamic first half, not so much the second. Perhaps Roark's polemics are too real-politic these days. That said, kudos to the director, cast and designers for realizing alienation, and so well.

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  9. Ivo van Hove's version of The Fountainhead is, probably, the best play I've ever seen. It reminded me why the novel changed my life forever. The great Ayn Rand should be proud.

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  10. Bravo! I enjoyed the play very much - it was totally worth flying across the country into the big apple to see it.

    It is novelly re-imagined while remaining faithful to the spirit of the book and Ayn Rand's ideas (a very rare occurrence! - thanks for honoring the genius novelist and revolutionary philosopher in this way).

    It was very well cast and it was simulating to see the unique characters and story events play out in such a fresh & uniquely set production. I am sorry I am not around in the city to go see it again.

    I am now a big fan of Ivo van Hove and will keep a lookout for his
    and the theater company's work in the future.


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  11. You could not have picked a worse time in American history to present this piece. (Maybe that was the point?) As someone mentioned before, the play seemed to normalize and romanticize rape. I wasn’t cool with that and confused why so many other audience members don’t seem phased by it at all...

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    1. It is so revealing that the second-handers respond exactly in lock-step with the current hot issue of the current moment.

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    2. An essay in this book deals with the "rape" issue and might help clear up the question you bring up...
      https://www.amazon.com/Essays-Rands-Fountainhead-Robert-Mayhew/dp/0739115782

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  12. Rapey show, presents the Rand ideas well, I don't think that's a good thing at all. Left at intermission.

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  13. Long and at times difficult to follow, but an original, great and thought-provoking theatrical experience for me. As a great fan of the Wagner Ring Cycle, I found it fulfilling in the manner of Gotterdammerung. Superior work of the kind that we need more of. The final monologue was wonderful!

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  14. I finally saw “Hamilton” Thursday night and WOW!!! It is absolutely 100% equal to all its hype. Then last night I saw “Fountainhead” at BAM. The entire interpretation of Ayn Rand is in Dutch with supertitles, and von Hove’s repertory group (which I have now seen in a dozen productions) is among the best theater actors working today.

    The play is 4 hours long, and at times the literal use of Ayn Rand’s language is almost oppressive, but I have never seen more clearly and sharply the nightmare of libertarianism, Rand Paul (who is of course named after Ayn Rand) and the sickness that comes from distorting the principles of democracy so far that they speak solely of the individual, with zero responsibility to community or “others”. They pulled this off by adhering strictly to Rand’s novel, and using much of her dialogue straight. I had forgotten a lot of the book, which I read more than 40 years ago. We were struck by Rand’s view of her own gender: the three female leads are a woman who is brutally raped and falls in love with her rapist; a domineering manipulative mother; a wimpy will-o-wisp asexual social worker. There is no female with likable strength, and only the mother has “power” in the form of manipulating her amoral son. The men are all jerks too, of course, but in more complex forms with non-stereotype characters.

    I felt often while watching the play that I was gaining insight into Steve Bannon, Rand Paul and the Trump coterie. Von Hove never changes the novel to make the connection – it’s set in vague late 20th century times, and all references are those made by Rand. But we obviously know why he chose to stage his nightmare in 2017.

    There’s quite a contrast between the exuberant “Hamilton” presentation of the American Revolution, versus Rand’s bizarre twisting of the concepts of “democracy” and “freedom.” I suppose the self-hatred that led her to demean her own gender so severely and demand that men have the right to do absolutely anything they want individually no matter how it devastates the rest of society makes sense: After all, Rand invented her name and identity, abandoning her actual roots as a Russian Jew. If you can witness the holocaust and abandon your own Judaism, I guess selling out your gender and demanding that a man be celebrated for committing rape and blowing up a housing unit for poor people makes sense.

    BTW, if you want to see a completely different interpretation of "Fountainhead" go to You Tube and catch clips of the Gary Cooper/Patricia Neal movie.

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  15. As a life-long admirer of Ayn Rand, I loved it. It was really a play version of The Fountainhead, using Rand's words and expressing her theme in the action, words, and events of the play. It is a triumph. And just in terms of shear theatricality, the Cortland explosion was fabulous.

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  16. I know there are people who are fans of Rand's work. Some of them are leading our government right now and inspired in part by her ideology are making efforts to take away 13 million Americans' health care and further exacerbate the income inequality in this country. So I agree, I can't imagine a worse time to be presenting this show. Overall, I'd say it felt like, "Hi America, we're the Dutch. Our theater has a lot of funding. Here's 4 hours of salt to pour in your wounds." I did think the production itself was excellent in all aspects except the fundamental one of the content and the interpretation of the content. I read Von Hove's interview in Forward and found his thinking on this material sorely lacking in depth. He seems to not acknowledge that works of art can come with an embedded ideology. It's not just a matter that characters can do 'bad thing' like Macbeth or Medea. It's the matter that the work of fiction can valorize 'bad things' like rape or a reactionary economic and political world view. Of course, the show will have its fans and many of them I'm sure love Rand's work. And everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mine is that her world view is reactionary and her novels are bad writing and it's sad to see so much great talent serve such crap.

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  17. The person above who wrote that the play normalized rape is not thinking. Not a character in the play was normal. The play did not normalize blowing up a housing project either. Zeus was a rapist, and some are declining to teach Ovid on that ground. Notso Wise.The characters were overripe and cartoonish wannabe Nietzscheans. The play was four hours of Wagnerian masturbation, extremely well done. But I have no idea why he bothered. To show the simultaneous vacuity and rancidity of the "thought" of a dime store messiah who is beloved of some very powerful,stunted men, who just passed a nihilistic tax bill? Excellent high end smelly cheese.

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  18. I am appalled at the lack of contextualizing of rape given today's climate. Though Ayn Rand was clearly self-hating on so many levels, an enlightened work of her production would have been to update, comment, etc. about rape and the objectification and disrespect of women. No mention was weak and uncourageous. The play should have been 3 hours not four. Nothing much new happened in the middle and the new age tech approach became grating and distracting. Finally, next time if all I am doing is reading lines in translation, I would prefer to stay home and do so. I was unable to enjoy the live drama, human interaction, body language and glances if I wanted to know what was happening in the story line. Why not stop being so edgy and serve up a pure and digestible production for the loyal BAM patrons to enjoy?

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  19. It was fascinating to watch this maniacally faithful presentation of Rand’s boy’s adventure for horny, grandiose middle aged men at the very moment her ideas were being enacted in our laws and tax code. The very literalness of the production turned the play into an essay on Rand and her cult of s/m individualism. That the actors could rip through those speeches with apparent conviction and make them sound like something someone might say is a testimony to their talent and Von Hove’s.

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  20. While the stage and directing was exemplary I must agree, why Fountainhead? A philosophical foundation for the current egotistical greed emanating from the White House to the Republican Congress. Sadly the audience appeared clueless, and, as other comments have emphasized why the explicit rape scene .... van Hove is a masterful director, I'm just disappointed with his choice of subject matter.

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  21. While the stage and directing was exemplary I must agree, why Fountainhead? A philosophical foundation for the current egotistical greed emanating from the White House to the Republican Congress. Sadly the audience appeared clueless, and, as other comments have emphasized why the explicit rape scene .... van Hove is a masterful director, I'm just disappointed with his choice of subject matter.

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  22. I loved the book and was captivated by this adaptation. Those who hadn’t read the book must have had difficulty connecting scenes and understanding the behavior of the characters, whom Ayn Rand describes thoroughly in the novel. Glad I saw it.

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  23. As someone who has read Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" it was fascinating to see this play perform in such a liberal city with such high production values.

    I do think this production gives a good representation of Rand's philosophy or ethical egoism. Whether you agree with that philosophy (or perhaps more importantly how Ayn Rand describes it) is another story entirely. There was plenty of moments in the Fountainhead where you can just feel the awkwardness in the audience, not just during the rape scene, but also during the long philosophical exposition scenes. When Howard Roark calls public-housing and altruism "Evil" to me It just feels cringy. Why does giving charity, providing public-housing or simply just giving someone pity have to go against ethical egoism? Ya I think a lot of people will agree man is fundamentally a selfish creature but its also in our self interest to help others isn't it?

    Moving away from the philosophy and just talking about the play itself I thought it was good overall though I think because it tried to be true to the Fountainhead it also took a lot of that stories problems.

    Throughout the play they use screens and projectors to give you a good idea about people are thinking, creating and doing which I think was a great way of getting the audiences focus on details they might have a hard time seeing. I thought the acting was very good and passionate as I was hoping for in an Ayn Rand story.

    One of the downsides of the play though is its a bit long of a play because the Fountainhead story is as well. Further because its a heavy and long philosophy novel you get a lot of exposition and preaching in the story. Some of the best and most engaging parts of this play happen in the first half of it when we are focused on the day to day lives of our cast. When we see their family issues, their struggles with authority, their shallowness all these are fun to follow along in the context of Ayn Rand's philosophy. However, when the second half of the play happens after intermission they focus more on exposition, which is honestly fine for contextualization purposes, but it just takes so much time away from what is interesting and engaging.

    Overall I really did enjoy the Fountainhead even with it's flaws. Toneelgroep succeeded at staying true to the original source materials and I would suggest that if anyone sees this play that they stay open minded to the philosophy even when if you already disagree with it. That and also be aware its very long and preachy at times.

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  24. I have recognized for some time that reading The Fountainhead during college had a pronounced effect on my worldview and formative life decisions. I was anxious to revisit the work in Van Hove's production at BAM. The first half was mesmerizing, but the second became increasingly strident and pompous, true, I suppose, to Rand's signature style. Reading the increasingly polemic supertitles for two hours became tiresome and was a distraction, not helped by the unfamiliar and harsh (to my ears) sound of the dialogue in Dutch. I am glad I attended; the production was powerful and polished, but I left exhausted.

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  25. This was a provocative, dramatic, original, but also largely faithful interpretation of Ayn Rand's novel. It takes a lot of courage for an established director to take a work of this nature as seriously as he did in this production. You could see a mind at work, engaging with the book: What does this mean? How do I understand it? How do I dramatize it on stage? My take was that the director himself is conflicted about the work, but rather than papering over or explaining away or trying to undercut the parts he doesn't like, he decided to present it as it is and let the audience face the issues for themselves.

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  26. When I made my 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. 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!)

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