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Director Ann Ciccolella Discusses Upcoming Theatrical Reading of Ayn Rand’s We the Living/The Unconquered

“Trump’s election motivated me to bring Ayn Rand’s story of life in Soviet Russia to Washington, D.C.,” said Ann Ciccolella, the Austin Shakespeare artistic director who is the organizing force behind the upcoming theatrical reading and panel discussion of scenes from Rand’s We the Living/The Unconquered at the Cato Institute on July 11. “As actors bring to life scenes from Rand’s play, I expect their salience, given today’s authoritarian trends, will ring out.”

Cato has already gotten a strong response in reservations for the event, Ciccolella said. “This demonstrates that interest in Ayn Rand is very much alive. We need her moral defense of liberty now more than ever. I hardly expect that from one evening everyone in our audience will immediately drop their mistaken beliefs and commit to a more rational path. But we will get people thinking — particularly the young Cato interns who will be attending — and hopefully some will read Ayn Rand for themselves, or watch Onkar Ghate’s course on We the Living at ARI Campus, or read Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels / The Cause of Hitler’s Germany.”

Liba Vaynberg and Matthew Lieff Christian

“We all need to share these ideas and spread the word,” Ciccolella said. “The clock is ticking, and I believe that Ayn Rand’s time has come. Threats to freedom of speech, as well as the impact of government on our daily lives in taxes, regulations, health care and education, are all becoming more and more ominous. Rand is a genius at revealing the impact of totalitarian political philosophy in this dramatic story of Kira’s unique life being suffocated by the authoritarian government of 1920s Russia.”

We the Living/The Unconquered is Ayn Rand’s story of Kira Argounova, a university engineering student who falls in love with Leo Kovalensky, son of a czarist hero. Both Kira and Leo yearn to shape their own future, but they are trapped in a communist state.

Inspiration for the upcoming Cato event germinated several years ago. “When we at Austin Shakespeare produced Jeff Britting’s adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Anthem in 2013,” Ciccolella recalled, “after every performance we had brief actor-audience ‘Talk Back’ conversations. Very often, an audience member who had grown up in an Eastern bloc country or under an oppressive Asian regime would say, ‘You Americans don’t understand,’ or ‘This is not fiction.’

“Then last fall, in conjunction with the Ayn Rand Institute’s Atlas Shrugged Revolution dinner, Austin Shakespeare staged scenes from Rand’s play The Unconquered selected by Robert Mayhew, the Seton Hall University professor of philosophy who edited Rand’s unproduced manuscript for print publication. Once again after the show, a relatively young couple said their experience growing up in socialist India was not unlike Kira’s story.”

Liba Vaynberg and Matthew Lieff Christian

John Allison, who recently stepped down as Cato’s CEO, suggested that Ciccolella bring the production to Washington and present it to the think tank’s interns. “David Boaz at Cato graciously agreed to host the reading,” she said, “along with a panel at which speakers will directly address the implications of Rand’s ideas in the context of today’s threats. I’m really glad that Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow and chief content officer at ARI, will be one of the panelists and that Dr. Mayhew will also be attending. We’ve also got a good moderator, Caleb O. Brown, the long-time host of Cato’s Daily Podcast.” The panel’s discussion of Rand’s themes of individualism and authoritarianism will also include Sarah Skwire, senior fellow at Liberty Fund and literary editor at FEE.org, and Cathy Young, author of Growing Up in Moscow and columnist for Newsday and Reason.

Professional actors will present staged readings of select scenes. “I am thrilled to revisit these scenes with three of the actors who performed in New York, plus three new D.C. actors,” Ciccolella said. The cast will feature Matthew Lieff Christian (Anthem, Off-Broadway), Gwendolyn Kelso (A Streetcar Named Desire in Austin) and as “Kira,” Liba Vaynberg (Madam Secretary).

“I want to thank Dr. Leonard Peikoff for allowing this unique work to have a moment on stage,” Ciccolella said, “and I’m grateful to the Objectivist Venture Fund, Carl Barney and John Allison for their generous support.”

To attend the event, which will take place starting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 11, register here. The registration deadline is 4 p.m. Monday, July 10. For those who cannot attend, a live stream of the panel discussion will be available from Cato starting at 6:45 p.m.