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UC Davis Staging of Havel’s The Memorandum Satirizes the Culture of Yesterday and Today

Vaclav Havel’s 1965 satirical farce The Memorandum will get a 21st-century upgrade for its UC Davis premiere in Wright Hall’s Lab A May 10 to 19. Directed by Alejandro Torres, B.A. 2011 dramatic art and film studies, and presented by the Department of Theatre and Dance’s ITDP: Institute for Exploration in Theatre, Dance and Performance, the production is free of charge.

The Memorandum meditates on the blunders and headaches of bureaucracy and office culture. An artificial language called “Ptydepe” is introduced into the unnamed organization where the play’s action takes place. Though the language is meant to improve office communications and offer precision, it soon proves to only lead the organization into catastrophe and a valley of absurdity. The company’s managing director, Josef Gross, serves as the every-man protagonist of this satire as he journeys through the wonderland that becomes the company after the introduction of Ptydepe.

Written within the context of the communist era (Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia in 1989 and the first President of the new Czech Republic in 1993), The Memorandum explores the themes of the instability of power, surveillance culture, and scarcity of resources that were all too common at the time.

Torres said he looks forward to tackling some of the key questions raised by the play, many of which are still relevant 47 years after the work’s debut.

“How powerful is the force of language in controlling others? What does it mean to feel alienation from others and from the self?” Torres said. “How do cycles and bureaucracy affect our daily lives and why do we persist in further pursuit of them?”

The production will integrate projections, live video, a multitude of wacky props, physical comedy, artificial words, and the festivities of a massive office party to bring Havel’s work to life.

Lead actors include UC Davis undergraduates John Malin as Josef Gross, Hannah Sharafian as Maria and Anna Chalmers as Ferdinand Pillar/Mr. Column.

ITDP: Institute for Exploration in Theatre, Dance and Performance

The UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance’s ITDP offers opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff from across the campus community to further research through practical exploration and application. The goal is to expand understanding of creative power, of different kinds of knowledge, especially the embodied, and of communication that offers insight into different cultures and peoples. ITDP encourages cutting edge research and production across fields of practice and in dialogue with the diverse community of Davis and beyond.

What: The Memorandum, written by Vaclav Havel and translated by Vera Blackwell. Directed by Alejandro Torres, presented by the UC Davis ITDP: Institute for Exploration in Theatre, Dance and Performance

When: Thursday-Friday, May 10-11 at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 12 at 2 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, May 17-19 at 8 p.m.

Where: Wright Hall, Lab A, UC Davis

Tickets: Free of charge

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