A New Office Speak

The Memorandum, written by Vaclav Havel and revived by The Actors Company Theater (TACT) after an almost 40 year Off-Broadway respite, is long overdue. If you are the kind of person that enjoys absurd satires in the styles of Ionesco, Pinter and comedy clown routines, then like me you’ll love this play. I can’t get enough of the repetitive patterns, the slamming doors, the lazzis, the Pinter-esque scenes, the constant status changes, and the seemingly appropriate, but actually outlandish office behavior. All this is molded together expertly by director Jenn Thompson. The play is set in a generic corporate office and begins with Gross, the managing director played by James Prendergast, opening an indecipherable office memo written in a complicated and less emotional language called “Ptydepe." This language, unbeknownst to a flabbergasted Gross, has been designated as the new language of the corporation. Gross’s attempts at getting the memo interpreted as well as questioning its purpose bring him only corporate mumble-jumble, and idiocy. The villainous deputy, Ballas, exceptionally played by Mark Alhadeff, carries out his underlying evil plot of sneaking in this new language. Things get especially comic when Ballas bounces of his silent sidekick, Pillar or Mr. P (Jeffrey C. Hawkins).

Kate Levy as Helena and Lynn Wright as Hana, whose eccentricities involve exit lines like, “ See ya later alligator” or constant hair fixing, add to the comic jumble. Almost all of the characters' main concern is to know what's on the lunch menu. Joel Leffert deserves special recognition as Lear, the teacher of “Ptydepe,” because he actually had to learn it, and he did so with skill.

The almost white set with its semi-transparent screens and slick furniture on wheels makes the multiple scene changes speedy. The projections and quirky sound design by Stephen Kunken and what I assume are original music compositions by Joseph Trapanese entertain and mimic the style of play.

At times I did want to see more a of a heated conflict between Gross (Prendergast) and the sneaky Ballas (Alhadeff), especially when Gross has the rug pulled out from under him. But Gross’s constant state of bafflement could have been the point.

Havel’s structure of the play has later scenes mirroring most earlier scenes and moments but with a new point view as roles shift. This becomes quite comical, adding to the satire when each new but familiar scene is recognized. The only characters that seem to have real feelings are Gross and Maria, played by the appealing Nilanjana Bose. Maria is a young poorly treated office assistant who Gross encourages to think for herself. A nice touch is Maria’s final exit, when she wears a yellow hat, symbolically rebelling against the pallet of black and grey office wear by costume designer David Toser.

This Eastern European play by the prominent Vaclav Havel was written during the communist period, so its satiric point had more to do with censoring and communication. Today, we also seem to be finding newer and colder ways to communicate via email, texting, Facebook, Twitter etc., which was the point of “Ptydepe." Thanks TACT for reviving this play after so long.

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