Ayn Rand's theory of art, according to Ideal, is that "an artist tells. He does not explain." In this case, she also tends to repeat herself (as with her overwritten and melodramatic novels) to the point of exhaustion. We never have an opportunity to see Kay Gonda (Jessie Barr), the world's most adored film star, in her element. Instead, we watch a heavily structured series of thin vignettes in which she is betrayed and martyred by six of her biggest fans. It's a patronizing mess, at best the PowerPoint presentation of a high-school debate team; at worst, a stillborn imitation of Rand's work, suffocated by a lack of conviction. Ideal is actually fairly relevant, given today's shallow and celebrity obsessed culture, but you wouldn't know it from watching this production: if the actors don't take these words to heart, why should we?
For instance, take Mr. Perkins (Ted Caine), who has just become the assistant manager of the Daffodil Canning Company. He's got a nagging mother-in-law, Mrs. Shly (Kim Rosen), and a cold housewife (Emily Marro), and he longs for something more than the everyday necessities of a family. But director Jenny Beth Snyder's not given any time to establish these points, nor the budget to use a theatrical shorthand (by way of set) that adequate demonstrates his feeling that home equals prison. And Rand--who only tells and never explains (let alone shows)--doesn't bother building to Perkins's radical decision to demand his wife to have an abortion. The bullet-point drama continues when Gonda arrives on scene: she stresses exactly what she expects her adorers to give up, and after they mull it over, each subverts or refuses her request.
To be fair, some of these situations are clever--at least so far as they allow Rand to belittle her opponents, whether they be communists, priests, or artists. What they lack is enough depth to be convincing, either as dramatic scenes or simply as political statements. We learn very little of Chuck Fink (Andrew Young) and his radical policies, save that when push comes to shove, he'll betray his morals for money. Brother Hix (Lee Kasper) grows quite animated when defending his church from the crass commercialism of Sister Twomey (Rosen)--"Five hundred dollars for the Temple of Eternal Truth?" he exclaims--but struggles to articulate a reason for Gonda to turn herself in. It's hard to feign outrage when each moment is so forcefully calculated. Why shouldn't Count Esterhazy (Sean Ireland) attempt to rape Gonda? Why shouldn't Langley (Bill Griffin) accuse his artistic muse of being a fake? Motives are beside the point.
And even when making that point, Ideal is, well, less than ideal. Gonda finds what she is looking for in Johnnie (Dan Pfau): a selfless man who understands that true idolaters must be willing to sacrifice themselves for their idol. But between a missed sound-cue, clunky staging, and lethargic acting, the scene lacks punch. Then again, this should be no surprise: such selfish characters, each looking for something profound to live for, would never share their findings, let alone their feelings, with the audience.