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Czech play confounds

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It's not quite clear exactly what message playwright — and former Czech Republic president — Vaclav Havel was trying to convey when he wrote "The Memorandum."

Perhaps he was snidely commenting on the state of his country at the time in which it was written (1965). Or maybe he was trying to make a statement on what corporate greed can do to a person. Still another thought is that Havel was drawing a parallel between the characters in his play and the rulers of a communist nation.

After spending two-and-a-half hours in the Helfaer Theatre watching his work performed — it opened there last Thursday — I get the impression that it's meant to be open to interpretation, for viewers to interpret the play how they want, depending on what ideas they bring to it.

That being said, I interpret it to be a play that tries to be avante garde and philosophical, but instead winds up cluttered and confusing. It's an admirable thing for a play to invite audiences to ponder new ideas; however, "The Memorandum" seems to try so hard to do exactly such a thing that it becomes bogged down in its own ideas of grandeur.

The play, which is directed by John Schneider, tells the plight of Joseph Gross (senior Brian Moore), managing director of what is implied to be a large corporation. He is duped out of power by his conniving deputy director Ian Ballas (senior Collin M. Gherty) and Ballas' silent lackey, Mr. P. (senior John Bobek). The two smarmy suits decide to implement a computer-generated language at the company, called "Ptydepe," without getting the approval of Gross first.

What follows is Gross' wild goose chase to track down the origins of this language that has permeated his company and commandeer its removal. However, he quickly becomes entrenched in so many Catch-22's that his energy is deflated, and he steps down from his position to let Ballas and Mr. P. take over the company.

It's not long before Gross finds himself in the same state of despair his former boss was once in. It seems no one actually knows how to speak Ptydepe except for the translators who have been hired by the company, and Gross runs out of patience to deal with what's plaguing the company.

It may be difficult to comprehend what exactly the purpose of "The Memorandum" is; however, it's clear that the actors on stage bring to their parts every ounce of talent they have. Each player does their best to ensure that even though the story may not be that enjoyable, their presence on stage will be.

Without many lines to speak, Bobek brings to the stage lively and vivid facial expressions that tell even the viewers in the very last rows of the theater exactly what is on his mind.

Sophomores Michael Miro and Nate Miller also bring a spark to the show. Miro, who plays the head of the translation center, is unabashedly clever as he continually confuses Gross — and later Ballas — when they try to reach the bottom of their Ptydepe mess. And Miller's condescending attitude as the Ptydepist is perfect.

However, the show clearly belongs to Gherty and Moore. Moore's descent into feelings of defeat as he realizes that his office has been taken away from him is remarkable — the mere raking of fingers through his hair conveys the confusion he is feeling.

Gherty's determination to get exactly what he wants, when he wants it is entirely enjoyable. His urgent walk and devilish smirk add to the notion that his cruelty knows no bounds.

The scenery designed by Stephen Hudson-Mairet serves to complete the corporate setting. Sets are sparse, and the background is provided by a large always-changing computer screen. Junior Katie Kaczynski's lighting adds to the effect, with a bright, fluorescent feeling that permeates the stage.

Although it's unfortunate that such sheer talent — both onstage and off — was spent on such a convoluted play, it is simply because of that talent that "The Memorandum" is at all worth seeing.

"The Memorandum" runs through Sunday at the Helfaer Theatre. Ticket prices vary. Call 288-7504 for more information.

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