Plato smash! ‘Action Philosophers’ to hit the stage next week

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It’ll be the most entertaining Philosophy 101 class you’ve ever sat through.

The sagacious writings of Plato, Bodhidharma, Karl Marx, Rene Descartes, Friedrich Neitzsche and Ayn Rand have been dumbed down, stuffed into comic book panels and thrown up onstage in “Action Philosophe­rs!”, a laugh-out-loud comedy smashing its way into Williamsburg’s Brick Theater on Oct. 6, where history’s truth-seeking gurus are turned into superheroes.

The theatrical conceit is sound: After all, one fundamental truth is that people pay more attention to barrell-chested guys in Spandex and capes than reed-thin intellectuals in tweed blazers with elbow patches.

In “Action Philosophe­rs!” — based on the graphic novel with the same name — Plato battles the shadows of perceived reality dressed as a mask-sporting Mexican wrestler. Neitzsche is the first “Superman” — although he’s still the depressed God killer we all know and love — and Bodhidarama searches for self-enlightenment dressed as a Kung-Fu master.

Back in 2005, comic co-creators Ryan Dunlavey and Fred Van Lente began wondering what historical figures would look like if they were action figures. Van Lente realized that philosophers would look pretty bad-ass (or should we say their outward image would mirror their perceived image) — and get more respect — if they were dressed up like superheroes.

“At the time I was reading a lot of Neitzsche for fun … that’s how I roll,” Van Lente said. “We decided to turn all of his life and thoughts into a crazy mini-comic that you would find with the action figures.”

But they didn’t stop at Neitzsche. They kept going, boiling down the lives of 30 philosophers — among them Francis Bacon, David Hume and Heraclitus (remember him? You would if, as in the graphic novel, his hair was on fire).

Van Lente’s wife, Crystal Skillman, deconstructed the philosophers in the graphic novel even further — selecting six for the entertaining and educational stage experience.

“[Choosing six] was a real challenge, but it worked because all of them have dramatic story arcs and journeys,” Skillman said. “We wanted to find a unique way to talk about their discovery while staying true to their words.”

The play, which premiered at the Brick for a limited run in June, brings together all types, from comedy fans to comic book geeks to philosophy students, Skillman said.

“We get fans of the book, fans of the theater and fans of a certain philosopher,” she said. “We even have people rooting for Ayn Rand.”

“Action Philosophe­rs!” at the Brick [575 Metropolitan Ave. between Union Avenue and Lorraine Street in Williamsburg, (718) 907-6189], Oct. 6–16. Tickets, $18. For information, visit

Updated 5:26 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

mike from GP says:
Sorry, but Rand does not belong in that list. Perhaps they coulda picked a real libertarian philosopher. Otherwise, this seems fun! I'm gonna go see it.
Sept. 29, 2011, 6:56 am
Paula Shingle from Williamsburg says:
Can I get a discount if I walk out on Ayn Rand? She is the only thinker in history to make nonsense from the word "Objective" while elevating selfish action to the heights of divine inspiration.

Holy Dharma, Batman! Ayn is spraying feces on the Nobility Museum!!!
Sept. 29, 2011, 10:25 am
Ryan Dunlavey from Park Slope says:
Hi - I'm the artist of the Action Philosophers comic. Those curious about the Ayn Rand segment can read the original 8-page comic it is based on right here:
Please come to the show! John, Crystal and company have made an amazing adaptation that's really fun and true to the satirical-but-accurate spirit of our original comics. I'm really proud to have inspired it.
Sept. 30, 2011, 3 pm

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