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Theatre / Think Twice

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"Incidentally, many good detective stories have the same flaw (which is not a technical flaw)—namely, that the villain initiates the action. (An exception is my play Think Twice.) In a murder mystery, a detective acts only because somebody was murdered; then he must take action to solve the mystery and avenge justice. I personally dislike stories in which the evil side is the motivating factor; but that is predominant in literature today, because of the culture."
Ayn Rand

In 1939—four years before The Fountainhead was published—Ayn Rand wrote her Reconstruction of the classic detective story, where her "beef" with the vast majority of murder mysteries, as noted in the quote above, would be dealt with.

In the resulting play, the detective is almost a secondary character, as opposed to the actual hero, and the play's strength comes more from the relationships among the many suspects—with each other, and to the murder victim. All of the suspects have a viable—and in most cases, justifiable—motive to do in the murder victim, and most of them note that they're grateful to whomever the murderer might be. Various tropes common to Mystery Fiction are subverted, discussed, deconstructed, and reconstructed—all with an Objectivist Aesop driving everything. Rand herself was especially proud of the Twist Ending—which, as it stands, is the entire reason for the title, Think Twice.


Sometime during the Cold War, on July 3rd, engineer and humanitarian Walter Breckenridge invites his wife, son, and friends and associates to a lavish house he's recently bought. He will demonstrate his latest invention—a generator of free energy—that night, in a fireworks display. He intends to give the invention—and all its secrets—to the world.

That night, his demonstration is interrupted—and he is found beside the machine, murdered. The next day, DA Greg Hastings and his detectives arrive to answer whodunit and why. His investigation will not be a typical one, because...aside from Walter's Russian friend Sergei (who may or may not be a Soviet operative), no one is shedding a tear over the man! Why would the beneficiaries of a humanitarian's generosity wish him dead? And how many secrets does this group have? Think you know the answer to the mystery? Think Twice.


This play provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Steve Ingalls runs the laboratories Walter owns, and was responsible for all the inventions credited to Walter. Steve was more-or-less okay with the arrangement (as Walter had good marketing skills), but then Walter announces he will give away all the designs of the generator to "the world". The fact that this would mean the Soviets could power an unlimited arsenal—and that Walter doesn't care about that—is the last straw for Steve.
  • The Alcoholic: Harvey, due in part to his wife's death and in part because Walter took his crippled son away from him, ostensibly to "care for him"...and then refused to give Billy treatment for his legs.
  • Asshole Victim: Walter is a subtler version of this than most. As per most Ayn Rand villains, he's an altruist—and constantly presumes to run the lives of those close to him, which everyone comes to chafe against. The mystery involves whether or not this is what led to his murder, or whether someone whacked him for the invention.
    • Sergei is a ridiculously self-righteous altruist who hates Steve and constantly expresses astonishment (even though it's constantly spelled out by everyone) why any of them would want to kill "their benefactor". As such, his being a Butt-Monkey—and eventually the fall guy for the murder—is all what he arguably had coming. Especially since he's a KGB operative who wanted to use the machine's technology for Soviet weaponry.
  • Batman Gambit: Turns out Steve concocted an elaborate plan to frame himself, by making the clues pointing to him so ridiculously obvious that Greg (his Friend on the Force) will automatically assume that it all means Steve is innocent.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Adrienne and Steve.
  • Beta Couple: It's implied throughout the second act, and especially by the end, that Helen and Harvey are about to begin a relationship.
  • Betty and Veronica: Helen and Adrienne for Steve. Helen eventually makes it a point to step out of the way, telling Steve it wouldn't be honest of him to marry her, as he's truly in love with Adrienne.
  • Butt-Monkey: Greg and Steve have a lot of fun at Sergei's expense.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Flash, endlessly. The fact that he can get highly opinionated just makes it worse.
  • Da Chief: The detective, Greg Hastings, is the District Attorney.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Many of the characters at one time or another, but especially Steve, Adrienne, and Greg.
  • Dirty Communists: Sergei is suspected to be a Soviet agent, which he denies vehemently in Berserk Button fashion.
    • Those Wacky Nazis: As the play was originally written in 1939, Sergei's character was a German who might be a Nazi, prior to Rand updating it for the Cold War.
  • The Ditz: Flash is indicated to be a ridiculously slow-witted dunce...who for some reason was hired by Walter to be Billy's tutor—an example of Black Comedy and, subtly, a demonstration of Walter keeping everyone "down" so they can "rely" on him.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: One of the many reasons Billy hates Walter. Also, Harvey doesn't want charity from Steve or Helen.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: And most of them want to keep it that way.
  • Foreshadowing: Hastings points out that Sergei's "foolish" demeanor does not clear him, as someone in his position might pretend to be foolish. Of course, Steve plays the same kind of game by dropping "obvious" clues pointing to him. Hastings, alas, doesn't catch on to this parallel.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Played with in an especially unique way: the ridiculously obvious clues pointing to Steve leads Greg to rule him out, and he orients his case around who would've framed him. Of course, Steve framed himself so he'd be free of suspicion...and then framed Sergei with much subtler, elaborate clues. As it turns out, Sergei did try and kill Walter once before, so he is guilty, sort of.
  • Friend on the Force: The detective, District Attorney Greg Hastings, is good friends with Steve.
  • Genre Savvy: Much of the appeal of Greg Hastings as a detective is his laying out for the other characters various tropes of murder mysteries—such as the fact that he doesn't put much stock in fingerprints on a gun because anyone who's seen a movie wouldn't leave their prints there! Also, he's quite Genre Savvy about Rand's philosophy—note his remarks about people saying they hate money.
    • A meta-example: Rand herself noted that someone who's Genre Savvy enough about her philosophy should have a pretty good idea who the murderer really is—and that, as such, she wouldn't be able to write too many murder mysteries:
    "Do you think that I would ever give the central action in a story of mine to anyone but the hero?"
  • I Am Spartacus: Downplayed, as no one confesses to the murder...but many of the suspects do seem to enjoy poking holes in their own alibis, as if to emphasize how glad they are Walter's dead. Played for Laughs in Black Comedy fashion, especially when Hastings loses it:
    Hastings: (Leans back in his chair, disgusted) Is there anyone here who does not want to be the murderer?
    Flash: Oh, I don't!
  • The Jeeves: Curtis, the butler. He's pretty much a secondary character, beyond suspicion—and remains that way; the questioning of him happens off-stage, subtly averting any suspicions that The Butler Did It.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Steve acts pretty cold, but turns out he genuinely cares about the other heroic characters—he just respects the rule of Don't You Dare Pity Me!. Par for the course with Ayn Rand's heroes.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The last time an attempt was made on Walter's life, it was Sergei, who had planned on framing Steve. Here, Walter was murdered by Steve—who then successfully frames Sergei.
  • MacGuffin: The machine Steve invented and Walter marketed.
  • Pet the Dog: Helen has many throughout to emphasize that, though she was married to Walter, she is nothing like him. She hates what he's done to everyone as much as anyone, and following his death, she offers to sponsor Tony's pianist career and Billy's treatment—and she arranges to give back legal guardianship of Billy to Harvey.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Helen is classically feminine and quite dignified and elegant, but chafes against her husband buying the lavish "classic" house behind her back, as she wanted a modernistic home she'd have a hand in designing herself. It's also indicated that she will manage her husband's fortune—and put it to much more noble (and less "altruistic") use.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Murder on the Orient Express, with nearly all the suspects having understandable axes to grind against the murder victim—and the detective's Genre Savvy line about fingerprints.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: True to form, with Rand's love of Good Versus Good, Greg Hastings can easily come across this way. It's an unspoken given that, as nearly everyone is grateful that Walter is dead, they're sort-of hoping that the murder will be unsolved. Lampshaded by Hastings himself:
    "God help us when people begin protecting each other! When they start that—I'm through."
  • Sympathetic Murderer: As noted, most of the characters are verbally grateful to whomever the murderer might be.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Adrienne comes off as The Lad-ette or a Tomboy with a Girly Streak, and she and Helen have this dynamic.
  • Twist Ending: Steve Ingalls, who throughout the play has been established to have been framed for the killing through "obvious" clues, actually was the killer! He framed himself, in order to clear his name early on!
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Walter, which is why it's such a surprise to Hastings that all his "beneficiaries" hated him.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: A central assumption in Greg's investigation is that someone framed Steve, because the clues are too ridiculously obvious—and if Steve were to be the murderer, he'd have been much more clever and clean about it. It never occurs to him that that's precisely the point—that Steve's using reverse psychology.