by Vaclev Havel
Directed by Jenn Thomson
A Production of
TACT/The Actors Company Theatre
The Beckett on Theatre Row

Reviewed by David Spencer

On Theatre Row, TACT, which specializes in revivals of neglected plays, is presenting the first NYC staging of Czech writer Vaclev Havel’s The Memorandum since its debut in the turbulent year of 1968. Set in the offices of a corporation (which might well be a stand-in for the halls of government, any government), it’s a satire (with elements of farce) about managerial inefficiency. A new, invented language meant to maximize clarity is introduced into the system, only there’s a key memo that cannot be translated without authorization, authorization can’t be given without assurance that it doesn’t conflict with certain other documents, and such potential conflict cannot be assessed without a translation. And well-meaning managing director Josef Gross, who is not a fan of the new language, yet was somehow persuaded to green-light its use by affixing his signature to a document he thought would help expedite other matters.

    As happens periodically with TACT productions, the presentation is admirably clean and uncluttered, and nothing much gets in the way of the written word…yet nothing much enhances it either. Jenn Thompson’s direction doesn’t really capture the madness or the menace, lead actor James Prendergast is likewise efficient but bland (though to be fair he stepped in during rehearsals to replace an injured Simon Jones, Mr. Jones [still perhaps most famous as Simon Dent in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] being a far better, funnier performer) and while it’s all watchable and interesting, it’s never compelling, and in the end comes off a little like an academic mounting for archival purposes. The rest of the cast is likewise able, and vary in quality and charisma. Scanning names of the previous (1968 Public Theatre), more boldly cast ensemble at the record logged at the Internet off Broadway data base (, speaking of archives) one gets the feeling that director-producer Joseph Papp and crew had a surer grip on the comedy of paranoia. Again, to be fair, TACT draws upon a repertory company. But there too, given evenings such as their Memorandum, one wonders if there’s an even more invasive modesty of vision holding them back.

    That said, many reviews have been splendid and the engagement has been extended. For many the novelty of the play itself may well be enough…

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