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Theater Review : Rand’s ‘Night of January 16th’ Has a Good Day in Court

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ayn Rand’s courtroom drama “The Night of January 16th” is one of the more dated theater pieces that still pops up every once in a while. It was written in an era when authenticity was not top priority and when simplism ran rampant in dramatic structure.

Not only does Rand allow her defendant, Karen Andre, to jump up and insist on questioning a witness--the judge and her attorney allow it--but the playwright’s familiarity with actual legal procedure seems sketchy.

She also has a penchant for creating characters who are stereotypical icons for the opposing forces in her monolithic drama. And then there’s the sociopolitical agenda at the core of all Rand’s writing--that power, whether political or economic, is sure to corrupt. Considering today’s headlines, that still seems to be true, but Rand’s coloring-book minimization hits you over the head with it.

The only thing a theater company can do is play her “January 16th” absolutely straight, with a B-movie flavor, as a period piece. That’s exactly what director Marc LeBlanc does with his staging at Westminster Community Theatre. Sandi Newcomb’s authentic period costumes set the time, and the acting echoes the high coloring of the genre.

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Even those actors who seem to go a little overboard bring back memories of second features at Saturday matinees. Jennifer Boudreau’s janitor’s wife, with her trashy Southern accent, Tony Grande’s smart-aleck private eye, Joel Ray Ibanez’s wonderfully amused New York cop, Kip Hogan’s religious housekeeper, Laurie LeBlanc’s outrageous gun moll, Mark J. Mallo’s gangster in love with Andre, and Aaron Abrams’ well-defined jailbird bookkeeper--are all in that mode, with the erzatz dialects of the period right on the button.

*

Balancing them are pretty realistic and effective performances by the main players in Rand’s tale of the world’s greatest financial swindler, his mistress Andre, their plan to desert a crashing empire with $10 million, and the complicated phony murder they concoct to get away with it.

Lisa Harvey’s Andre is as cocksure and savvy as she can be, her attorney is played with wonderful sincerity by Warren Draper, and the prosecuting attorney is given a good angry, flustered edge by Edward J. Steneck. Jasmine Trepte is the perfect icy Rand foil as the financier’s duped society wife, and Warren Y. Harker is properly stuffy as her evil banker father. The whole cast fits right into the mold.

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The play’s gimmick has the audience as the jury, which ultimately decides Andre’s guilt or innocence, and Rand provides alternative endings for either decision--this long before the more recent “Mystery of Edwin Drood” used the same gimmick.

If you can’t find the excellent 1941 film version of “January 16th” on video, this production will give you a good idea of how they used to do this type of thing.

* “The Night of January 16th,” Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St., Westminster. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Ends Feb. 4. $10. (714) 527-5546. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. Lisa Harvey: Karen Andre

Warren Draper: Defense Attorney Stevens

Edward J. Steneck: District Attorney Flint

Aaron Abrams: Sigurd Jungquist

Jasmine Trepte: Nancy Lee Faulkner

Warren Y. Harker: John Graham Whitfield

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Mark J. Mallo: Larry Regan

Joel Ray Ibanez: Anthony Farrelli

Laurie LeBlanc: Roberta Van Rensselaer

Jennifer Boudreau: Mrs. John Hutchins

Tony Grande: Homer Van Fleet

Kip Hogan: Magda Svenson

Dan Henry: Judge Heath

A Westminster Community Theatre production of Ayn Rand’s courtroom drama. Directed and scenic design by Marc LeBlanc. Lighting/sound design: Jeff Crumley. Costumes/props: Sandi Newcomb. Stage manager: Juliette Wozniak.

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