Novels & Works
of Ayn Rand

Owner: Leonard Peikoff  |  Credit: Ayn Rand Archives

Three Plays

2005

Three Plays shadow

Overview

  • Between 1934 and 1939, Ayn Rand wrote the three original stage plays collected in this volume. Since Night of January 16th is covered as a separate volume on this site, only the other two plays are discussed here.

    Ideal grew out of a conversation with a movie fan who gushed that she would give her life to meet a certain famous actress. Dubious, Rand conceived of a story in which the integrity of those who profess to embrace ideals would be tested. What if their idol suddenly appears in their lives, seemingly desperately in need of help, so that their ideals now demand real action?

    Think Twice is a murder mystery with a twist. As might be expected, various suspects all have a motive to kill — but not a relatively superficial motive like financial gain or petty jealousy. Rand moves at deeper levels — and the play’s title is meant to be a reminder of this fact.

    “The purpose of this collection is to bring Ayn Rand’s achievements as a writer of dramatic art to the attention of a wider audience of readers — and thereby enrich their enjoyment of her creative power.”

    — Richard E. Ralston, “Editor’s Note,” Three Plays

  • In Ideal, actress Kay Gonda unexpectedly enters the lives of six of her most ardent admirers, finding them from the addresses on their fan letters. One by one, over a single night and early morning, she visits an upright family man, a social activist, an artist, an evangelist, a wealthy playboy and a lost soul named Johnnie Dawes. To each she pleads for help: she is wanted by police for a murder, and she needs a hiding place. By night’s end, she has tested the integrity of those who claim she is their ideal.

    Think Twice presents Walter Breckenridge, physicist and “humanitarian,” on the eve of a much-anticipated public announcement concerning his company’s breakthrough in energy technology. Breckenridge intends to donate it to the world and its governments, without payment or restriction. At his home, surrounded by the objects of his charity, as well as a certain foreign agent, Breckenridge is murdered. Who could have had a motive to kill such a benefactor, and why is murder the only way out?

  • From Ideal:

    Kay Gonda: [Raising her head] . . . If all of you who look at me on the screen hear the things I say and worship me for them — where do I hear them? Where can I hear them, so that I might go on? I want to see, real, living, and in the hours of my own days, that glory I create as an illusion! I want it real! I want to know that there is someone, somewhere, who wants it, too! Or else what is the use of seeing it, and working, and burning oneself for an impossible vision? A spirit, too, needs fuel. It can run dry.

    From Think Twice:

    Tony: [In the same wise, tired voice] Mr. Hastings, you don’t know what a ghastly weapon kindness can be. When you’re up against an enemy, you can fight him. But when you’re up against a friend, a gentle, kindly, smiling friend — you turn against yourself. You think that you’re low and ungrateful. It’s the best in you that destroys you. That’s what’s horrible about it.

Characters

  • Kay Gonda

    Kay Gonda is a screen actress idolized by millions. In fan letters, they pledge gratitude and loyalty to her for showing them the best within themselves. But Gonda grows weary of inspiring others — she seeks inspiration of her own.

    Then the unexpected happens: a man is murdered, and Gonda is rumored to be a suspect. In a dizzying whirl of confrontations over the course of one long night, Gonda visits six of her most ardent fans, pleading for a hiding place from the police, challenging each of them, one by one, to pay more than the cost of a movie ticket to protect their ideal.

    Will Gonda find in her audience the same integrity that she brings to her acting — or will they betray her, and themselves? Does one who kills illusions in others deserve to be called a murderer? Only Ayn Rand could create a character like Kay Gonda.

    “I saw a man once, when I was very young. He stood on a rock, . . . His arms were spread out and his body bent backward, . . . He stood still and tense, like a string trembling to a note of ecstasy no man had ever heard. . . . I have never known who he was. I knew only that this was what life should be.”

    — Kay Gonda, Ideal by Ayn Rand

  • Mick Watts

    Mick Watts is Kay Gonda’s hard-bitten, fiercely loyal press agent. When we meet him in the Prologue, he’s drunk and angry at a world that hides its own failings in a cloud of admiration for the great actress. “I went to confession once, long ago,” he muses, “and they talked about the redemption of all sins. It’s useless to yell ‘Kay Gonda’ and to think that all your sins are washed away. Just pay two bits in the balcony — and come out pure as snow.”

    When Gonda fails to appear for an important contract signing, Watts acts strangely and seems to know more than he’s saying. Does he know her whereabouts? How far will he go to protect her? And why on earth would he implicate her in an unsolved murder?

    “Kay Gonda does not cook her own meals . . . . She does not play golf, adopt babies, or endow hospitals for homeless horses. She is not kind to her dear old mother — she has no dear old mother. She is not just like you and me. She never was like you and me. She’s like nothing you bastards ever dreamed of!”

    — Mick Watts, Ideal by Ayn Rand

  • Johnnie Dawes

    Johnnie Dawes is a tortured soul who’s alienated from the world of the conventional and commonplace. Daring to hope that Gonda could be an exception, he writes a fan letter giving voice to his yearning for a “woman who does not assume a glory of greatness for a few hours, then return to the children-dinner-friends-football-and-God reality. A woman who seeks that glory in her every minute and her every step. A woman in whom life is not a curse, nor a bargain, but a hymn. . . . I want nothing except to know that such a woman exists.”

    When Dawes returns home to find Gonda in his apartment, desperately needing his protection, his sincerity is put to the test. What price will he pay to preserve his most cherished ideal? 

    “I want you all to look at me. Years from now you can tell your grandchildren about it. You are looking at something you will never see again and they will never see — a man who is perfectly happy!

    — Johnnie Dawes, Ideal by Ayn Rand

  • Walter Breckenridge

    Walter Breckenridge is a prominent physicist and renowned “humanitarian” who claims to seek the good of all mankind in everything he does. We meet him on the eve of his announcement that a breakthrough in energy production technology will be given away, without patent restrictions, to all the world’s people and governments.

    The ominous presence of Serge Sookin, a Russian immigrant with no visible means of support, is a reminder of the hazards of making such technology available to oppressive regimes. And what of Breckenridge’s other charitable giveaways, to a child with infantile paralysis, a budding musician who needs schooling, and a struggling actress who needs a theater? What is the effect of his charity on their lives — and can it provide a motive for murder?

    “My friends! Not I, but you are to be honored today. Not what I have been, but those whom I have served. You — all of you — are the justification of my existence — for help to one’s fellow men is the only justification of anyone’s existence.”

    — Walter Breckenridge, Think Twice by Ayn Rand

  • Steve Ingalls

    Steve Ingalls is Walter Breckenridge’s business partner. “Sixteen years ago,” he tells Breckenridge at one point, “when we formed our partnership and started the Breckenridge Laboratories, I was very young. I did not care for mankind and I did not care for fame. I was willing to give you most of the profits, and all the glory, and your name on my inventions . . . .”

    Is there a motive for murder here? Anyone who thinks a mere struggle over money or credit would explain an Ayn Rand mystery has not experienced her unique approach to motivation. The key lies elsewhere, in the deepest recesses of the various suspects’ soul, where self-esteem struggles against the pressure for self-betrayal.

    “I don’t see what’s wrong with making a fortune — if you deserve it and people are willing to pay for what you offer them. Besides, I’ve never liked things that are given away. When you get something for nothing — you always find a string attached somewhere. Like the fish when it swallows the worm.”

    — Steve Ingalls, Think Twice by Ayn Rand

Themes

  • The theme of Ideal, according to Ayn Rand’s literary executor, Leonard Peikoff, is “the evil of divorcing ideals from life.” In Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy, the ideal is achievable and the virtue of integrity is therefore practical as well as moral. But this is not the conventional viewpoint.

    In Ideal, actress Kay Gonda confronts several of her devoted fans with the unreality of their ideals in a series of encounters which, in Peikoff’s words, comprise a “philosophical guide to hypocrisy, a dramatized inventory of the kinds of ideas and attitudes that lead to the impotence of ideals — that is, to their detachment from life.”

    Yet some of the characters remain true to their ideals. The drama resides in seeing which ones, and what form their loyalty will take.

  • Both Ideal and Think Twice dramatize the value of independence, the virtue of relying solely on one’s own judgment rather than substituting the judgments of other people.

    In Ideal, the fans of actress Kay Gonda express their intense admiration in private letters to her. But when Gonda appears at their homes seeking help, these fans become aware of conflicts between their professed ideals and the opinions of others — a nagging wife, a grasping partner, a ruthless competitor — and of the need to choose.

    In Think Twice, Walter Breckenridge repeatedly spouts sentiments that command universal public agreement. Yet all the other characters, major and minor, have reason to disagree that Breckenridge’s “humanitarianism” is morally good. As in Ideal, the plot’s events bring each character face-to-face with the need to choose: their own judgments or conventional wisdom. It’s a choice with life-or-death consequences.

  • On Rand’s view, altruism is not to be confused with benevolence toward others, as expressed by, for example, holding doors for the elderly. In its deepest sense, altruism (literally, “otherism”) is the view that the individual has no right to the pursuit of happiness, only a duty to serve and sacrifice for the sake of others.

    In Think Twice, Walter Breckenridge embodies the ideal of altruism in his every action. Through Breckenridge, Rand dramatizes the practical effects of altruism, not only in global politics, but in everyday life, through a series of painful events that give rise to several motives for murder. 

  • In The Fountainhead, Dominique Francon thinks to herself that men have “been so mistaken about the shapes of their Devil . . . .” One reason for this, on Rand’s view, is that mankind has been radically mistaken about the ideal.

    These two plays question mankind’s ideals. Through a series of episodes that can be seen as variations on a theme, Think Twice challenges the idea that humanitarianism is a virtue and Ideal challenges the idea that ideals are to be longed for but never realized in this life. “What do you dream of?” Kay Gonda asks another character in Ideal, in what Rand’s literary executor, Leonard Peikoff, calls the play’s thematic statement. “Nothing,” he answers; “Of what account are dreams?” “Of what account is life?” she asks. “None. But who made it so?” “Those who cannot dream,” she answers. He replies: “No. Those who can only dream.”

  • On Ayn Rand’s view, crucial to understanding man’s nature is that he possesses free will: the choices one makes throughout one’s life determine one’s values and character. In terms of her mature philosophy, Ayn Rand states the principle as “man is a being of self-made soul.”

    In different ways, both Ideal and Think Twice highlight the kinds of moral choices we all face in life, and dramatize the importance and responsibility of forming one’s own values and of striving to realize them in practice.

    In Ideal, we witness a number of characters who default on this responsibility — and the emptiness of soul that results. In Think Twice, we see a hero fight for and remain true to actual values, despite enormous risk.

Extras

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