The Increased Difficulty of Concentration

by Vaclav Havel
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The Play

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 866

The Increased Difficulty of Concentration opens on an empty stage set of Dr. Huml’s flat. Mrs. Huml enters carrying a tray with breakfast for two. She wears a dressing gown. Huml, in pajamas, asks for honey; she ignores him and accuses him of failing again. He replies that conditions were not right and asks again for honey. She says, “In the cupboard.” When he complains from offstage that he cannot find it, she jumps up and runs offstage, presumably to locate the honey.

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Almost immediately Huml backs in, fully dressed, from his study, tiptoes to the same rear door Mrs. Huml just walked through, and stealthily leads Renata to the front door, kissing her as he sneaks her out. He goes back to the study door and ushers in Anna Balcar and Karel Kriebl, wearing lab coats, carefully carrying Puzuk, a machine, between them. They explain that information on Huml has been fed into Puzuk, which is about to ask Huml his first question.

Kriebl fusses with the machine, working on its keyboard, turning its crank, peering into its eyepiece. Balcar calls for the first question. Puzuk rumbles. Machal enters and takes measurements of the room, then writes a measurement on a piece of paper, which Kriebl feeds to Puzuk. Machal exits. Then the same business with crank and buttons and rumbles and a call for silence—Puzuk’s red button goes on. It is overheated and must be cooled in Huml’s refrigerator. Then its siren goes off. Now it is cold, and Balcar and Kriebl run out the back door to Puzuk.

Huml starts toward them, but Renata, wearing Mrs. Huml’s apron, enters from the same back door, carrying a tray with lunch, a stew. They argue because Huml has not told his wife that their marriage must end. She locks herself in the study. Then Blanka comes through the study door to continue taking dictation from Huml. He is dictating a pedantic work on values, specifically, man’s needs and notions of happiness. Blanka goes to the kitchen; Huml follows her. Mr. and Mrs. Huml’s offstage voices indicate that she has found the honey.

Back at the breakfast table, they discuss Huml’s telling Renata that their affair must end. Mrs. Huml leaves for work, giving instructions about the lunch stew that the audience has already seen. Balcar and Kriebl return with Puzuk and go through the same business. This time Beck interrupts pointlessly; the red button goes on because Puzuk is cold; they take Puzuk to the oven to warm it.

Huml apologizes for some affront to Blanka. She goes to get her coat to leave; then he greets her as she arrives at the front door. He dictates until she goes to put on the kettle. Immediately Renata comes in wearing Mrs. Huml’s apron; they go upstairs to the bedroom. Balcar, Kriebl, and Huml come in and discuss their anthropological studies. Offstage, Puzuk’s siren wails (it is too hot). Huml returns half-dressed. At last Puzuk’s first question: In an effeminate voice, Puzuk asks, “May I have a little rest?” This ends act 1.

Act 2 begins with Mr. and Mrs. Huml discussing his mistress. They exit. Then follows the scene for which Huml apologized earlier. He makes a grab at Blanka while dictating. Her exit melds into Renata’s quarreling with Huml about asking his wife for a divorce. Then comes the previously omitted scene of Huml’s first introduction to Balcar, Kriebl, Machal, and Beck. They go to get Puzuk. Huml whispers to Renata, who answers from offstage. Then the Humls have a domestic quarrel about telling Renata that he is through with her. As Renata leaves, Blanka again asks Huml not to make advances to her; they continue an earlier dictation scene until he attacks and then runs after her, to return with Renata, both dressing from their act 1 bedroom scene. He asks Renata to tell Mrs. Huml. She repeats her earlier exit, but this time...

(The entire section contains 1354 words.)

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