Theater archives

TACT Reissues The Memorandum


According to TACT, its revival of The Memorandum, an early work by Václav Havel, is the play’s first major New York production since 1968 (the same year, lest we forget, the Soviets invaded the author’s home country). Perhaps for good reason: It hasn’t aged well. Without real totalitarianism to add menace to its high jinks, The Memorandum‘s satire is curiously inert. It’s a Cold War museum piece (though one with some excellent jokes).

The Kafka-ish setup: One morning, Gross (James Prendergast), a hapless apparatchik, discovers an official document composed in gibberish. He promptly learns that the jumble of letters is actually the new “scientific” language Ptydepe, a synthetic lingo intended to replace the messy vagaries of “natural” speech. Ptydepe—a tongue no one understands, one totally unrelated to human realities—quickly becomes the grammar of arbitrary power.

In our post-Marxist era, The Memorandum‘s war between the natural and the scientific lacks ideological context—social tragedy turned plain old farce. (The scenes where a pompous linguist teaches Ptydepe’s baroquely complex vocabulary are still hilarious, however.) Director Jenn Thompson duly opts to keep things light, with a sleek ’60s modernist set, a soundtrack of bubbly Slavic crooning, and sitcom-style acting.

Like an Eastern Bloc counterpart to Mad Men, office politics are the only kind here.