Former Czech president Václav Havel is a bit of an overachiever. It wasn't enough for him to be a political dissident and activist. No, he had to go and become an award-winning playwright. Oh, and then? Yeah, he led the Velvet Revolution that lifted the Czech Republic out from under the Iron Curtain. Then? Ran the country as president for 13 years. It's an interesting cultural comparison to the good ole US of A, where the press fawned over our presidential candidates for their appearance on WWE Raw, and the toughest political issue is about who wears a flag pin.
defunkt theatre is well aware of this dissonance, and is producing Havel's The Garden Party with an aim of pointing out ridiculous and maddening similarities between 1963 Czechoslovakia and present-day America. In this satire of bureaucratic routine, Hugo Pludek (Nick Sherbo) plays chess with himself while his parents (Elon Hasson and Paige Jones) push him to seek a job in the government's Liquidation Office. Hugo, a student of clever moves and linguistic patterns, learns the bureaucratic language and quickly rises through the ranks.
Hugo begins his ascent at a garden party for the Liquidation Office, where he encounters a Liquidation Office clerk (David Bellis-Squires), his secretary (Katie Ewing), and Maxy Falk, an inaugurator from the Inauguration Office (James Moore). A general through-line in Havel's work is the power of language to interfere with clear thought—played out excellently by this triad of performers. Fussing and rushing and commanding and capitulating, they work through absurdities such as the fact that a liquidation must be inaugurated, but who shall inaugurate the liquidation of the Inauguration Office, especially if the Liquidation Office is being liquidated?
Written in 1963, The Garden Party was Havel's first full-length play. It's clear this was the beginning of a long career—the play is sharp and biting in its criticism of the ruling societal norms, but it also lacks much of the artfulness that Havel developed in later years. He doesn't hesitate to hit you over the head with his message, and even if you can't follow a bit of what the actors are doing onstage, you'll still leave knowing that Havel wants you to understand the senselessness of a totalitarian society.