The Memorandum (Vyrozumení) is one of the best known and most popular plays by Czechoslovakia’s (later the Czech Republic’s) best known playwrights, Vaclav Havel. Inspired by the absurdities of life in Eastern Europe under Communism, Havel began writing the satirical play as early as 1960. Rewritten many times over the next few years, The Memorandum became the second of Havel’s plays produced at Prague’s Theatre of the Balustrade, where he was then literary manager. The play made its American debut in 1968 at the Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theatre. This production of The Memorandum won an Obie Award for best foreign play. The Memorandum was first produced in London in 1977, and has been revived regularly around the world.
Like much of Havel’s writing, The Memorandum is political, at least implicitly. The play concerns the tribulations of Josef Gross, the managing director of an organization encumbered by a bureaucracy that is out of control. The introduction of an artificial language, Ptydepe, is supposed to streamline office communications, but only makes it worse. Havel’s satire is full of irony about the kind of jobs created by communism as well as the constant surveillance by office spies. Though Havel’s vision was informed by his observations, many critics have noted that the office politics depicted can be found around the world. The importance of conformity to keep one’s job is seen as relatively common. As Michael Billington of The Guardian wrote, ‘‘The play may have grown out of experi ence of Czech communism; its application, however, is universal.’’