The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, Ludicrous Theatre, at the Chicago Actors Studio. A year after this 1968 play was written, its author, Vaclav Havel, was imprisoned and his plays banned. So it’s reasonable to assume some kind of political analogy in his absurdist portrait of a bureaucrat caught between his wife, his mistress, his attractive secretary, his meaningless job, and his “voluntary” participation in a social-science experiment: he must answer personal questions posed by a temperamental data-analysis machine.

But in 2000 the Soviet Union is history, and Havel is president of the Czech Republic. Most of the artists involved in this Ludicrous Theatre production were likely not born when this troublesome play premiered, and though they make commendable attempts at a period setting, the original context for this satire is lost to modern American audiences.

Fortunately bureaucracies tend to be the same regardless of time and place, so it’s easy to imagine the hapless hero as, say, an untenured academic lost in byzantine theorizing and research. Safely oriented in this way, we’re free to enjoy John Sanders’s dizzily paced staging and the cast’s agile ensemble playing in a production so verbally and physically kinetic that even the props–in particular the pampered interrogation gizmo–take on personalities of their own.

–Mary Shen Barnidge