nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
November 11, 2006
The conflict at the heart of Vaclav Havel's The Memo lies with the title document, which is written in a secret corporate language that few people can decipher. The memo contains instructions on how to translate it, but in order to do so one must have the proper paperwork filled out. The problem is that the paperwork cannot be authorized unless the memo is translated first. Did you catch all that? If so, then you may very well enjoy Untitled Theater Company # 61's new revival of The Memo. Scrupulously directed by Edward Einhorn and performed well by a talented ensemble, this is a fine production of a play that is just as scrupulously confusing and hard to follow.
Mr. Gross is the Director of an unnamed corporation that does who-knows-what. His second-in-command, Max, the Deputy Director, has authorized the creation of the secret language (which is inscrutably named Ptydepe) in a ploy to oust Gross and take his job. Once he does, however, Max discovers that he's in over his head: being a head administrator is not part of his skill set. Meanwhile, Ptydepe is causing the breakdown of company-wide communication as Gross finds himself sliding further down the corporate ladder.
The Memo is one of Havel's earliest plays, but is already chock full of his soon-to-be trademarks (absurdism, repetition, an urge to make fools out of the powers that be). What the play doesn't have, though, is any sort of narrative discipline. Havel had not yet fully embraced story structure, and it shows here. Thematically, he is sound as usual, but the story doesn't hold up under the weight of the author making his point over and over again. By the end of the first act, the characters have experienced change, and Havel has gotten his message across. Normally, this would be a perfect point of closure, but in The Memo it just serves as the launching pad for an inexplicably random and redundant second act. Nothing new is learned, nothing more is gained from prolonged exposure to Havel's agenda, and no more enjoyment is gleaned from a two-hour-and-forty-five-minute behemoth that could've been a much more effective eighty minute one-act.
Einhorn and his company sure do make a go of it, though. Einhorn understands Havel's aesthetic and wrings much-needed laughs from the script. Alexander C. Senchak multi-area set and Carla Grant's costumes evoke the play's corporate sameness with precision. Maxwell Zener is pitch perfect as the smugly sinister Max. Peter Bean and Uma Incrocci are hilarious as, respectively, the only man who fully understands Ptydepe and the woman who thinks that's hot. And, as Gross, Andrew Rothkin makes the most of a troublingly passive and easily manipulated character. In the end, though, The Memo undermines this talented group.