Written by Václav Havel
Directed by Trevor Schmidt
Starring Edmund Stapleton, Cayley Thomas, Lianna Makuch, Mat Simpson, Sam Jeffery, Patricia Cerda and Perry Gratton
Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue and 112 Street)
Runs Nov. 1 - 10 at 7:30 p.m., preview on Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m., matinee Nov. 8 at 12:30 p.m. No show on Nov. 4
$11 for students at the Timms Centre Box Office
Language has its limitations — just try to compose a sarcastic text or decipher the tone of an e-mail and you’ll experience its shortcomings firsthand. But it’s not just written communication that’s difficult: whenever we speak to each other, the potential for misunderstanding looms large. And if you think linguistic ambiguities are annoying in your personal life, just imagine the inefficiencies they cause in the business world.
Written by the Czech playwright, activist and politician Václav Havel, The Memorandum revolves around a company that invents a new language called Ptydepe in an attempt to make office communications clearer. There’s only one problem — Joseph, the play’s protagonist, doesn’t understand Ptydepe, and when he receives an indecipherable memorandum in the new language, he must search the office building for someone willing to help him translate it. Why doesn’t Joseph understand this new corporate speech? It’s up to him to find out as he navigates a web of office politics on a quest to translate the memo and keep his job.
Director Trevor Schmidt thinks the predicament facing the play’s main character is one audiences will easily relate to — though perhaps not for the happiest of reasons.
“I think that we always assume that when someone is speaking another language in front of us that they’re speaking about us,” Schmidt says. “And I mean, when (Joseph’s coworkers) are pointing at him, you know they’re talking about him and we all laugh because we know how uncomfortable that situation can be.”
The irony of Joseph’s inability to understand a language meant to improve comprehension lends humour to the play — an important aspect, given Studio Theatre’s decision to approach The Memorandum as a comedy despite its nods to political and surrealist playwrights like George Orwell and Franz Kafka.
The production promises to be plenty of fun for the audience, combining big ideas with comedy and glamourous and zany ‘60s design. The show’s look is inspired by the tv show Mad Men, creating an office environment focused more on enjoying life than getting work done. While audiences may not or may not relate to this aspect of the The Memorandum, they’ll be wishing they could by the play’s end.
“They all drink, smoke cigarettes, and eat chocolates and gossip about each other and go for lunch,” Schmidt smiles. “Sounds like my dream job.”
Comedies are also a change from the usual fare for the senior BFA students performing in The Memorandum. Productions for students in their final year are often serious dramas with dark themes, allowing the actors to show off their acting abilities by tackling challenging subject matter. While the difficulty of mastering the subtle art of comedic timing took some of the actors by surprise, Schmidt says the over-the-top nature of the play will ultimately make for a more entertaining performance — for the both the actors and the audience.
“It’s a very broad playing style in terms of acting that I think you don’t see very often from the BFA students,” Schmidt says. “I think often they do things in their final year that they think show them off really well because they get to be very dramatic and very serious.
This cast has said that they’re having a really good time (and) lots of fun, but they also said that it’s a lot harder work to do than (they) thought it would be.”
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