‘Memorandum’ parallels modern life, also entertains

Troy Doetch

Billed as a 1960s Czechoslovakian absurdist black comedy The Memorandum by Václav Havel suggests that it may go over the audience’s head.

The parables to the communist regime might exclude the everyman, and the Kafkaesque themes of painful bureaucracy may seem uncomfortably dry. Curiously, the School of Theatre and Dance’s production, running Thursday through Sunday in the Players Theatre of the Stevens Building, is both accessible and relevant to today’s viewer.

“We have the same sort of mishaps and craziness going on,” said Director Patricia Skarbinski. “If anyone watches The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, that is this. Václav Havel is like Jon Stewart.”

The Memorandum follows managing director Josef Gross, played by senior acting student Victor Gurevich, as he falls victim to a malicious corporate scheme. Receiving a memo written in what appears to be gibberish, Gross unravels a conspiracy of a newly-invented office code, Ptydepe. Though the language attempts to achieve order by eliminating the human qualities from language, it reduces the corporation to anomie. Attempts to correct the disorder are blocked by senseless rules and ever-present surveillance.

“It was written during the time period where communism was at the height of its ridiculousness,” Skarbinski said. “People were being followed and pursued by the secret police, and there were shortages. I think people were sort of busting out of the seams from how ridiculous life had become, and then he writes this play to show how things go round about in circles and nothing gets resolved. I think he wanted to capture the ridiculousness as well as the sinister atmosphere of everything that was happening, and that’s what we tried to recreate here.”

Though the play is allegorical to the troubles of communism in the ‘60s, it resonates with our capitalistic society as well. In an era where technology condemns privacy and mechanizes human beings, The Memorandum predicts the absurdities of corporate America with frightening accuracy. Ptydepe may as well read as binary.

In addition to being relevant, The Memorandum entertains. Psychedelic transitions in which the actors dance props on and off a spinning stage perfectly compliment the throwback décor. Exaggerated stage directions spice up somewhat dry scenes as actors scale desks and file cabinets in mid-conversation. Highlights include sophomore acting major Mitchell Martin as the mustachioed professor of Ptydepe, freshman acting major Matthew Yee as the smooth-talking Mr. Ballas, sophomore acting major Hunter McHugh as the eerily silent Mr. P and Gurevich as Josef Gross.

“Reading a lot of what went on the period, it gets into your system,” Gurevich said. “When you find yourself coming up against that again, you’re like, I’ve heard about this or I’ve felt this so many times.”

Rating: 4/5