Night of January 16 | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Night of January 16

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NIGHT OF JANUARY 16, MadMonk Productions, at the Chopin Theatre. Popular with die-hard objectivists, Ayn Rand's 1935 agitprop courtroom drama employs audience members as jurors in the murder trial of Karen Andre, a secretary accused of killing her former boss and dumping his body out a window. The victim is Bjorn Faulkner, a capitalist-warrior based on the Swedish "match king" of the early 20th century, whose suicide ended a fraudulent financial empire.

Rand sees Faulkner as another virtuously selfish Fountainhead hero, an entrepreneur whose Darwinian superiority enables him to make and break rules. Unfortunately, her two and a half hours of hero worship are entangled in an onslaught of details chronicling the battle for Faulkner's soul between courageous Karen and Faulkner's venal wife and predatory father-in-law. We also get often gratuitous testimony from 11 witnesses. An inveterate novelist, Rand crowds their evidence with interpolations that should be inadmissible.

Slow to start--there's an endless musical interlude before the court convenes--Scott Burtness's stodgy 150-minute staging is marred by wooden witnesses and a dearth of believable reactions (though the civilian jury did their best). But Laura Slater is outstanding as the secretary. Her icy delivery blossoming into full-throated devotion is period perfect, and her passion makes it seem, however briefly, that something really big is at stake here. She alone is reason to revive this sermon to the choir.

--Lawrence Bommer

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