Last night I went to go see a performance of an Ayn Rand play (Night of January 16th) by a youth theater. Now, I have never actually read anything by Ayn Rand because when I want to read crap, I read Twilight, and when I want to read ideological nonsense, I go to Fark’s politics tab. So this was my first real exposure to her outside of American politics, learning about her views of abortion, and Dirty Dancing. And let me just say, what the fuck?
First off, the production was well done. The actors were great. They all had cute little American accents, which I was not expecting. But the play was, well, it appears as though it was a courtroom drama by someone who had never set foot in a courtroom. I’m a lawyer, so maybe I’m a bit more picky than the average theater goer in terms of accuracy, but holy shit, Ayn! At least go to fucking court so your plot might make a bit of sense.
Below is a list of a fraction of my problems with the writing:
1. Objections are not code for “stop insulting the witness.” They were mostly used when a witness got upset about something and just no. There were dozens of times I wanted to stand up in the theater and shout “objection!” because some of the witness testimony made my ears bleed. For example, a lawyer cannot ordinarily lead his own witness, a witness cannot be asked to tell a story, and hearsay. Mother fucker! I swear, some of the testimony sounded like “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with a girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.”
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2. The Rule. Enough with the emotional outbursts from witnesses in the gallery/theater. They did less to move the plot forward and more to shock people/annoy the crap out of me. There is a rule that can exclude witnesses from watching the trial. It’s aptly named “the rule” since it’s used so freaking much. Writing in dramatic outbursts just makes you look stupid. While the current version of the rule might only go back to the ’50s (at least, in federal court), it’s Biblical.
3. Surprise witnesses. Just stop.
4. No, I’m pretty sure it’s the defendant on trial, not the jury members. When they decide if a person did or didn’t do something, that doesn’t mean they agree with the playwright’s objectivist bullshit.
5. Felony murder. In this case, even if the defendant didn’t push the man off the balcony, she’s still guilty of murder. Let me explain: if, while you are committing a felony, someone is killed, you can be charged with murder. Even if you didn’t pull the trigger. In the play, basically, the defendant and the victim were in the process of embezzling or stealing $10 million. In the course of this felony, the victim was killed. Either by the defendant or the victim’s father-in-law. It doesn’t matter who did it. Since it happened in the course of the felony, if danger to life is foreseen, then she can be convicted for murder. This could be a case of Ayn trying to dumb down laws–throwing out felony murder to make it easier for the audience to understand. But, given Ayn’s objectivism/laws don’t apply and it only matter that you are strong enough to do attitude, it sounds more like she didn’t understand the law she scorns.
You can write a piece of fiction that involves a court scene and have it be entertaining and not horribly inaccurate. Law and Order is a decent example of that. So is Anatomy of a Murder and My Cousin Vinny*. Courtroom plots are best pulled off when they show an understanding of and respect for the law and procedure rather than just reflecting the playwright’s ideas of what the world should be like.
edited to add one more complaint: something else I just remembered that isn’t a “legal” complaint: the young woman who played the court stenographer. I felt so bad for her! Her whole role was to sit there and pretend to type. To me (because I am biased and hate Ayn Rand), this showed a complete disdain for the role of court stenographer because it just effectively made her part of the scenery. She could have actually used this actress. When things got too heated in the courtroom, the stenographer could have spoken up and reminded them that they need to talk one at a time (as stenographers do all the time in real life). She could have been asked to read something back. She could have asked actors not to nod their heads or say “uh huh” (as they have to do all the time). There were characters with other accents, she could have asked someone to repeat something (which would have been helpful to the audience or comedic). But no, in Ayn Rand’s perfect world, they are part of the scenery. They are not to speak up and are not worthy of our attention.
*Yes, I know there was a surprise witness there. Two of them. But it can happen in real life, and the writers at least addressed the problem by having Vinny object to it.