Not all schools of philosophical inquiry can celebrate the world premiere of a new play by its founding thinker.

Well, a sort of new play, that is.

Opening tonight at the Long Center, "Anthem" is the first adaptation of Ayn Rand's 1938 novella of the same name. Produced by Austin Shakespeare, the premiere is piquing the interest of Rand scholars around the country — and an important one here in Austin.

On a cold morning recently over coffee and a muffin at Thunderbird Coffee, Tara A. Smith offered that this stage version of Rand's unusually metaphoric tale of a totalitarian future world in which the concept of the individual has been obliterated would give audiences another avenue to understand the ideas of the Russian-born thinker and author of still much-read novels "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged."

"(Rand) was very much aware of and engaged in addressing the very fundamental philosophical questions. But if you were to ask her, she would have said first and foremost that she's a novelist," says Smith, a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas and holder of the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism.

And if you were to ask Smith what she loves more than the study of philosophy, the New Jersey native and hard-core New York Giants fan would probably say "football."

"I'm teaching a course next fall called Art, Sport and the Meaning of Life," says Smith, who, true to the rigors of philosophy, asks as many questions as she offers ideas. "I've been thinking a lot about the value of sport. What is the objective value of sport and what kind of value is that?"

But back to Rand's "Anthem." Rand's objectivist philosophical inquiries, Smith says, more or less derived in the back stories.

"In the course of fleshing out the characters in her novels, Rand needed to elaborate on their philosophy, their premises — she wanted to understand how they see the world," says Smith. "And then from reading Rand's fiction, people would ask her a lot questions about the implicit philosophy in her work."

"I think a common misunderstanding is that Rand is all about politics, or she's all about ethics, especially a virtue of selfishness. But (her work) is much more than just a political position. (Rand's) is really a systematic view addressing all the major branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, the idea of value and the political."

The theatrical version of Rand's dark tale is by Jeff Britting, manager of the Ayn Rand Archive in Los Angeles. Britting was the associate producer on the 1997 Academy Award-nominated documentary "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life," composing a score for the film. For his 60-minute stage adaptation, Britting has composed a score as well. The Austin Shakespeare production also employs video elements to augment the story of a man struggling to rediscover a forbidden word: "ego."

"Rand thought philosophy should be very practical," says Smith, whose book "Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics" recently was translated into Chinese. "We use philosophy every day. Implicitly, we're making decisions every day on the basis of what we think. And on the basis of what we think about the big things: What's real, what do we value, what are the likely consequences of what I do or don't do? She has a book called 'Philosophy. Who Needs It.' The answer is: everyone."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

'Anthem'

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Rollins Studio Theatre, Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive

Tickets: $21-$29 ($15 students)

Information: 474-5664, www.thelongcenter.org