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The Memorandum 

What would happen if language were controlled by a bureaucracy?

Wednesday, May 30 2001
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Vaclav Havel's 1965 play is a provocative farce about a bureaucracy's attempts to improve communication by introducing an artificial language called Ptydep into the workplace. But to maintain the pristine order of Ptydep and to prevent it from developing nuances and subtleties, the bureaucrats create an approval process that no employee can possibly navigate, effectively halting all business communication. It also becomes apparent that the language itself is impossible to master.

For a play about bureaucratic small-mindedness, it presents remarkably engaging characters. The cast as a whole is very talented, particularly the long-suffering, idealistic secretary Maria (Jennifer Dean), the ogrelike but intoxicating deputy director Mr. Ballas (Joshua Shabani), and the translation department's exuberant and impudent duo (Leah Abrams and Rob Dario). The exception is Keith Madden as the managing director, Mr. Gross; Gross is meant to have a weak, conflicted character, but at times Madden seems simply uneasy with his part. Though the play is about language, it is the characters' nonverbal communications that add life and humor. Even though most of the characters are two-dimensional, the caricatures are done with great conviction and ingenuity.

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Fiona Gow

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