Director Bennett Fisher shares some thoughts about putting together “The Memorandum” for May 15th’s Theater Pub. Make sure you join us for the show! It starts at 8 PM but we fill up quick, so get there early!
Rehearsing the piece this week, the actors and I have been struck by the fact that, for a very heady play, The Memorandum has quite a bit of heart. At the core of Havel’s play is the question that troubles everyone who has had a bad week at work: am I wasting my life doing something I hate? Admittedly, Josef Gross’ bad week in The Memorandum is quite a bit worse than the ones most of us might experience, but the story we are presented with onstage is unsettling not because it is grotesque, but because it is familiar.
In the course of the rehearsal process, many of the actors and I have shared anecdotes about the little office cruelties we’ve suffered in the workplace. The more we dig into The Memorandum, the more I can appreciate that the full range of these conflicts – from the mildly irritating to the utterly unbearable – are present in the play. A number of the actors have remarked on the character’s ridiculous fixation on what’s served for lunch and the obsession with snack bars and party planning. Food is discussed, often at length, in almost every scene of the play, while specific work projects and deadlines are never mentioned. The more I reread the play, the more I appreciate what Havel is trying to say about what happens to our brain when we show up at the office every day. For the characters in The Memorandum, it’s not about the work, but about surviving until it’s quitting time. For some characters, that survival involves a high stakes power struggle for the supreme position in a Byzantine bureaucracy. For others, that survival hinges on their ability to get another meal voucher. Since Havel never mentions what the employees of the organization actually do, it’s hard to judge what’s a better use of their time.
Reading the play on the page, I feel you miss a lot of the human warmth and wonderful, sophomoric humor that encases the deep, existential question at the play’s heart. The more I work with the actors, the more I appreciate that this truly is a play to be heard aloud. I hope you can come join us for it.