NIU School of Theatre and Dance stages The Memorandum

February 2, 2011

From press release

DEKALB, Ill.—Tales of spies, paranoia and fear of government control commonly draw on the historical situations they were written in. Václav Havel’s Czechoslovakian satire, The Memorandum, was written in 1965 under the Communist thumb of the Soviet Union. The Northern Illinois University (NIU) School of Theatre and Dance will perform The Memorandum Feb. 3-6 and Feb. 10-13 in the Players Theatre of the Stevens Building on the DeKalb, Ill., campus.

The Memorandum follows Josef Gross, the managing director of a branch of an unnamed organization. Gross discovers the organization has begun to use a secret code language called Ptydepe for communicating without the emotional connections of the native language. Complications arise when restrictions are placed on who is allowed to translate the language, and the organization installs spies to keep tabs on all the staff members.

Director Patricia Skarbinski describes the play as an “absurdist black comedy,” saying, “[The Memorandum] has both parts of the term ‘black comedy;’ it has the humor of the ridiculous as well as a poignant, darker tone.”

To get the actors involved in the roles, Skarbinski got them to imagine life in a “culture of surveillance” where they are always being watched. This allowed the actors to understand the need for self-censure and limiting of their actions. Skarbinksi said, “Once they were in this mindset, they could then find a sense of humor about [the situation].”

While the play is a satire of the Communist control of Eastern Europe nearly 50 years ago, Skarbinski believes the play will still resonate with audiences.

“We live in a polarized country,” she said. “Where [the United States] is divided by Democrats and Republicans, [Eastern Europe] was divided by those for and those against the government. But we are still accustomed to ridiculous, absurd events in the political arena.”

The absurd events of the play will be accompanied by other entertaining elements. Skarbinski has put together a large score for the play. She also describes the costumes and look of the show as reminiscent of the 1960s office style made popular by the television show MadMen.

Tickets are on sale and can be purchased from the Stevens Building box office in the lobby of the Stevens Building on the DeKalb campus. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $8 for students. Box office is open noon-5 p.m., Monday-Thursday, noon-2 p.m., Friday, and one hour before show times. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.niu.edu/theatre. The box office can be reached at (815) 753-1600.

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