The writer of one of my favorite plays has died: Václav Havel. Unfortunately, it has been a week of several writerly deaths (Christopher Hitchens, Gilbert Adair). Havel was a prominent leader who helped bring down communism in Czechoslovakia. He was both the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic and a playwright. I’ve only read one of his plays, The Garden Party, but it’s truly a favorite. The play is a critique of conformity during communist rule and an enjoyable Kafkaesque work.
The protagonist is Hugo Pludek, who is an average person from a middle-class Czech family. His parents are worried about his future so they arrange an appointment for him with the influential Mr. Kalabis at the garden party of the Liquidation Office. Hugo does not find Kalabis but instead a sequence of absurd encounters starts. All of the functionaries of the Liquidation Office speak in a degenerated, ideological, content-free language, as is expected from their role in the bureaucratic system.Hugo is intelligent and adaptive, therefore is able to adjust his behaviour. He learns to speak platitudinally, using clichés that do not mean anything real and finally becomes the head of the newly created Central Inauguration and Liquidation Committee. As the result, he completely loses his identity.
I tried searching for a copy of the play on Project Gutenberg but no results were found. The play is from the 1960s and probably still retains its copyright. Because of his death, I have pulled Havel’s collection of plays that I own off the shelf and have added it to my winter break reading list. I’m very much looking forward to re-reading The Garden Party and becoming acquainted with his other plays.
The Garden Party also reminds me of a Czech film from around the same time period called A Report on the Party and the Guests. I’ve been searching for this film for almost two years on Netflix and Amazon. I don’t think it’s available in the US but it might be available in the UK. It is fantastic and also offers 71 minutes of the bizarre and absurd. If you’re like me and can’t get your hands on the film, in the very least, pick up or borrow a copy of Havel’s plays.
“If there are any theatres left that base work entirely on the writer’s text, theatres that value the development of poetry in drama, then Havel’s plays will never be out of the repertoire.” –Milan Kundera