Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Memorandum by Václav Havel

L - R - Yael Berkovich, Bart Petty - Photos: Mitch Goldstrom

By Joe Straw

The Santa Monica Rep presents The Memorandum by Václav Havel, directed by Jen Bloom, and now playing at the Miles Memorial Playhouse through April 20th, 2014. 

This is small theatre at its best.  The acting is superb and the direction by Jen Bloom provides a glimpse into a style of acting that dares to takes us into the absurdist reality of Václav Havel’s farcical black comedy.  In short, the night was sublime and the concentration from the performers on this night was spot on.  


To:  Mr. Gross

From: The Chairman

Date:  Your very future

Subject Matter:  Confidential

Mr. Gross, the memorandum provided to you, sitting on your desk this morning, and on your personal tablet is a cruel but deliberate attempt to solidify your standing in the company.  Your objective is to translate the memo, written in another language, and take corrective action immediately upon the completion of the translation.   Your job depends on it.

We will be watching you today.

Watching and enjoying the endeavors of human beings necessitates providing you with my observations of existence in the office.  

Before anyone arrives, the work morning starts with music, a dedicated drumbeat followed by synthesized instruments providing more layers to a beat of a working environment.  

Workers enter, checking in one at a time, a “ping”, and entry. Automatic time clocks, in a futuristic setting, suggests, upon entry, an effective way to manage information. Well done.  Each worker has a prescribed plexi-glass pad, similar to the old fashion iPads used back in the twenty teens. Signatures require a thumbprint on the pad to authenticate.  

These workers are extremely hungry and have a negotiated and segregate time to eat, every 15 minutes or so, or until the needs arrive to have a food source that would increase productivity. A #hash tag projected on the office wall presents the quantity of food available in which a worker is instructed to buy all of those items except one. A slightly colored, off white, offensive looking milk in a bottle with a plastic cup is the preferred office drink of choice.

The boss enters last, Josef Gross (Bart Petty), carrying with him, something that looks like a fire extinguisher. It is this container for which he is recognized as the boss. Company policy.  The orange rectangle on his green fake tie would also appear to make him a negotiated hierarchy of the company and a person of recognition.

On Mr. Gross’s desk is a tablet, the memorandum, untranslatable because it is in another language.

Mr. Gross does his job effectively despite arrangements around the office, no rules, that prevents him from buying another “mail book” that his deputy Jan Ballas (Barbara Urich) desperately needs. She, cleverly disguised, appears at first glance to be a rules follower.   

But things have changed this morning. Unbeknownst to Mr. Gross, Jan, the deputy, has introduced a new office language to streamline the effectiveness of communications in the office.  That new language is Ptydepe pronounced, puh-TIE-duh-pee.

The new language has taken over, procedures are in place, classes have started, and everyone is eager to learn, but there is a slight problem. And we’ll let them sort it out.

This version of The Memorandum by writer Václav Havel is set sometime in the near future and wonderfully displayed in all its glory by director Jen Bloom. The play was written in 1965 by the former President of The Czech Republic with the help of his brother, Ivan M. Havel.

The futuristic setting by Sean T. Cawelti at Miles Memorial Playhouse gives us an elongated thrust stage that runs the length of the auditorium.  Each office is compartmentalized with a transparent strip indicating office separations. The audience is sitting on either side of the stage. At times the viewing can be cumbersome, when the actors are facing in the opposite direction, but those times are minimal.

Barbara Urich, Bart Petty 

Bart Petty paints a very disparaging picture of Josef Gross, a man running near the end of his employment at this company.  He either has to learn the language, get on board or face elimination.  Despite his intelligence, this humanist is running out of steam.  And in that final life grab, he must seize control of the company in the way life has taught him and then rejoice in his victories.  Petty paints a very nice portrait of a man loosing control.

Barbara Urich is the very conniving Jan Ballas and plays her perfectly.  Suited impeccably with grey bland office attire, garish accessories, black shoes, open toed, and bright red nail polish.  She walks demurely, catlike, sucking on a candy pop, waiting patiently to strike. Ballas lines up all her arguments effectively to control the office but lacks the experience to ultimately take control. Urich plays this character supremely and in the end it is a character one comes to loathe.  Still, it is a fascinating portrayal by an actor with unimpeachable skills.  

Yael Berkovich is exceptional as Ms. (Mary) Lear, the brilliant, savant, and nightmarish teacher of Ptydepe.  Waggling and gaggling on stage, scarf in hand, an introspective yet outgoing teacher, instructing the hand picked brilliant employees to a new language. Listening to Berkovich recite the inscrutable language of Ptydepe with the words projected on the screen behind her was quite amazing. On the other end of the scale Berkovick does a remarkable turn as Pillar, a silent sycophant waiting to strike at the most convenient moment, but it is a moment that costs her dearly.

Bill Charlton plays Otto Stroll, Head of the Translation Center. Stroll is impeccably garbed and appears to posses a tremendous amount of power. He uses that power, or language, to manipulate others around him.  By appearances he has a complete grasp of the language that was only implemented only a few short hours ago.  Nicely done.

Burl Moseley, Tania Getty

Burl Moseley plays Alex Savant a university professor and Ptydepist who thinks more of himself than the company he keeps. He appears to speak Ptydepe fluently and says that his knowledge of the language is like having a Ph.D. although no one calls him doctor. Moseley brings an English accent to the role to accentuate the characters’ self-importance.  Also, Moseley is an exceptional actor who listens and reacts with impeccable timing.  

Tania Getty is Helena a woman who is after her own heart. She is someone who seeks recognition but is socially inept in her endeavors. She appears to have things under control but lacks the ability to control down to the minute detail. She is that one staff person the other employees know but haven’t a clue as to what she does.  Getty brings a nice practicality to the character.

Sara Mayer plays Maria the secretary of the translation and has a very nice quality about her. The character is also a humanist and sympathizes with those around her.  Unfortunately, this leads to tragic results.  Mayer plays the character with an innocent charm and does well with the role.

Ewan Chung plays Hans a character that does his best to stay out of the way, gather food, and performs task that no one is wiling to do.  Chung's performance has charm and he is comfortable on stage.  But one suspects, in order to add to the role, he needs a stronger and creative objective so we know exactly his conflict and where he is going.

David Evan Stolworthy does an exceptional job as Thumb, the good student that is willing to please.  Thumb is an exceptional student of Ptydepe, a man who takes the language and understands and recognizes the meaning immediately.  Unfortunately he is not perfect and that leads to his shattered nerves and his demise in the eyes of the master. Stolworthy also plays George, a man hidden, below the office watching every move of the office workers.

Jen Bloom, the director, does an exceptional job with this play.  One item that caught my attention was the relationship of Maria, the secretary, to the various camps.  At some point she has to switch sides, knowing full well her actions will get her into trouble.  But once we see her betrayal there’s hardly an emotional reaction from the consequence of her action.   She slips away with a few words without even an emotional nod from her boss, Mr. Gross, who easily lets her go now that his job is secured.  Also, it would appear that someone else is controlling the strings of the company, someone we haven’t seen.  If the memorandum is authentic, that somebody is watching and having the time of his or her life.  

Others member of the delightful crew are as follows:

Stage Manager – Adrienne Johnson-Lister
Assistant Stage Manager – Princella Baker, Jr.
Production/Projection Design – Sean T. Cawelti
Costume Design – Maddie Keller
Lighting Design – Mike Stone
Assistant Costume – Princella Baker, Jr.
Assistant Lighting – Joh Mulhern
Props Mistresses – Ann Marie Tullo
Sound Design – Andy Mitton
Fight Choreography – Jesse Holland
Graphic Design – Brandon Roosa
Publicity – Phil Sokoloff
Tech Consultant & Production Photography – Mitch Goldstrom
Program Layout/Design – Yael Berkovich

Artistic Director/Producer – Eric Bloom
Producer – Bart Petty
Producer – Ann Marie Tullo
Producer – Sarah Gurfield

Santa Monica Rep is now a 501(c) (3) company.   All donations are tax deductible and welcomed.  

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Run! Run!  And take someone from Ernst & Young, LLC.  They will identify with this production.

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