Despite having one of the most radical and inspiring biographies of any theater artist, playwright-turned- prisoner-turned-Czech president Václav Havel hasn’t seen much time on Chicago stages over the years. The last time I recall watching a translation of one of his works was in 2012 at Trap Door, a company that has maintained a reputation for masterfully interpreting esoteric and deeply political plays, many of them of Slavic origin, for 25 years. So it’s refreshing to see a young company like Organic Theater tackle such dramaturgically rich territory, even if the result feels more like an academic exercise than impactful satire.
The director of a vague, militantly bureaucratic organization (Tricia Rogers) receives a memo typed in Ptydepe, an inscrutable language that her deputy director (Joel Moses) is hell-bent on making the official written correspondence of government and business. Unlike the “mother tongue,” he notes, Ptydepe’s linguistic rules and tightly regulated translations make it immune to evolution by the proletariat. When the experiment becomes a failed, absurdist disaster, party elites turn on one another in a self-defeating circle of obfuscation, paranoia, and blame.
At nearly two-and-a-half hours, many of the broad comedic choices in Bryan Wakefield’s production rob the material of any bite—the decision to portray a language instructor (Nick Bryant) as a classic American charismatic preacher, for instance, limits the character to a one-note joke that barely sustains comedic energy in a three-minute sketch, let alone a two-act play. I did get a kick, though, out of Mary Mikva as a meek admin assistant who is far more concerned about lunch than the infighting of executive overlords. v