For the first time in many years, Vaclav Havel said, he felt inspired to write a new play.
Playwriting had been his occupation--his obsession, more accurately, since his work was infrequently produced--long before he became a politician. All 18 of Havel's stage plays, in fact, were written before 1989, the year of the "Velvet Revolution," which hoisted the once-imprisoned writer and political dissident to the presidency of Czechoslovakia--and ultimately, in 1993, to that office in the newly independent Czech Republic.
Now the impulse was stirring again, Havel told Robert Lyons, one of the directors in the recent Havel Festival, an event in New York City to mark Havel's 70th birthday and his concurrent autumn 2006 residency at Columbia University. What was the stimulus that started his artistic juices flowing?
It was a Vaclav Havel play.
The guest of honor had just watched Act 1 of The Memo, his subversive drama about a large bureaucracy infected by a mysterious new official language. Originally titled The Memorandum, this was the play that helped bring Havel to the attention of the American public, winning an Obie in 1968 for its production at the Public Theater.
Now, watching a festival production of The Memo at Manhattan's Ohio Theater, directed by Edward Einhorn in a new translation by Paul Wilson, Havel seemed to feel the old energy. He said that seeing this new version of his own play was "like seeing a play by …