Pictured: Tricia Rogers | Photo by Anna Gelman.
by Tonika Todorova
If you have ever read or seen “The Memo,” a production currently running at Organic Theater, you’d know you are going in for a long intellectual satire written by the only playwright who also became a president. Václav Havel, responsible for the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, the Velvet Revolution and subsequently becoming the last president of former Czechoslovakia and first president of the post-split Czech Republic, was an essayist and dramatist before his political career. It’s quite the miracle that any of his plays passed Communist censorship.
Writing, performing and seeing a satire in the Communist era isn’t simply funny. It’s outright brave. Such productions were presented in the presence of authorities who could not only shut down the show mid-scene but arrest anyone involved with it. Quite the pressure under which actors were to perform. Relating this sentiment to the American “free speech” lifestyle proves to be difficult for Organic Theater. More so, they draw parallels to current day conservatism, but fail to produce the same impact. Trump’s America echoes a post-totalitarian Europe in a familiar manner — the “post” standing for “we are better at hiding our dictatorship.” But this particular production feels more like a comfortable absurdist comedy than a powerful commentary on the failure of humanitarian necessity.
Nonetheless, the play touches on several points that should spark spirited post-show discussions amongst theatergoers. For lovers of George Orwell’s 1984, the similarities of Newspeak and the new made-up language of Ptydepe in “The Memo” are relevant to our current “fake news” trend, echoing inside a vicious cycle of a self-made vacuum, both with the power to destroy and render meaningless at the same time. A repetitive theme is the desire to always break away from the bureaucratic meandering to obtain food — a nod to the lack of resources of Communist societies and a parallel to America’s love for “freebies,” which is well executed among the cast. A witty addition to this production is the use of a fire extinguisher prop to represent the power of each new director as if it is up to them to put out the next fire that comes along. But the most entertaining bits are Organic’s signature choreographed scene changes that pepper an otherwise rather long production littered with some actors struggling for lines and director choices made for the sake of absurdity rather than meaning.
It’s impossible to separate this play from any of the politicking that surrounds us, but it is important to take away a perspective on the individual, because, in the end, we all play our part, whether willingly or knowingly. In “Power of the Powerless” Havel wrote “they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.” “The Memo” is an important reminder of our role in this thing we call society.
“The Memo” runs though June 16. More info at organictheater.org.