The Memorandum | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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THE MEMORANDUM, Stage Left Theatre. This 1965 play by Vaclav Havel, about the bureaucratic dehumanization of communication, has all the classic strengths and weaknesses of eastern European absurdism. Mightily indebted to Kafka and Capek, its characters speak in ludicrously polished, overlogical paragraphs peppered with interjectory slapstick--though dread largely trumps humor. Its symmetrical structure of inversions and repetitions is perfect, but often tiresomely so. And it's got a deadly didactic dissident streak that remains dated despite a well-considered transplantation to the capitalist present: this Memorandum still feels tied to Czechoslovakia's communist past. Yet overall the company's treatment is unusually riveting, and its infusion of interest and urgency into the play's flat, difficult, and plain impossible moments is a small miracle.

Director Kevin Heckman has brought his talented cast to a fever pitch and paced the show to match, executing even the set changes with furious precision. Robert G. Smith's fatiguing white-on-white design is modest but slick. Justin Fletcher as hero/victim Gross and Gary Alexander as office-language instructor Lear are marvelously focused and intricate, though occasionally they hew too close to their stylized lines. Amy Dunlap turns sketchy consultomarketer Helena into an emblem of shadowy "management." And James Foster and John Sanders as deputy manager Ballas and deputy something Pillar are brilliantly multifaceted as the menacingly vaudevillian provocateurs behind the "scientifically" designed language Ptydepe. Their efforts can't conceal the occasional awkwardness of the play's vague retrofitting to America Today--something about cell phones, E-mails, and buzzwords. But this production renders that awkwardness nearly moot.

--Brian Nemtusak

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