The Increased Difficulty of Concentration by Vaclav Havel, translated by Stepan Simek


Honored by Baltimore City Paper as No. 1 of the Top 10 2007 for "The Year in Stage."

Performed Oct. 25-28 and Nov. 1-4, 2007, at Theatre Project, Baltimore


Renata (Amy Quint).

Carl Kriebel (John Hagan). Right, Dr. Edward Hummel (Brad Holbrook).

Hummel and Lilly (Shira Kobren).


Max Mikulski (Matthew Park).


Photographs by John Matturri

Directed by Yolanda Hawkins

Music by William Niederkorn

Set design by Phyllis Carlin

Lighting by Jeff Nash

Properties by Danielle Matland

Music recorded by The Mendoza Line

Technical director Colleen Beschen

Set construction by Bret Gonden





Brad Holbrook . . . . . . Dr. Edward Hummel

Martina Milova . . . . . . Dr. Balthazar

Amy Quint . . . . . . . . . Renata

Shira Kobren. . . . . . . . Lilly

Stacia French . . . . . . . Edna Hummel

John Hagan. . . . . . . . . Carl Kreibel

Matthew Park . . . . . . . Max Mikulski

William Niederkorn . . . Beck


The Increased Difficulty of Concentration opened in April 1968 at the Theatre on the Balustrade in Prague, where Vaclav Havel's plays The Garden Party and The Memorandum had been staged earlier. He intended the play's nonlinear structure to mirror the disordered private life of his central character, the social scientist Edward Hummel, as he attempts to write a thesis analyzing the nature of human values and needs. Havel used a collage approach he had learned years earlier from the poet/artist Jiri Kolar. Composing the play, he charted its scenes. "I made graphs, cut strips of paper, changed the order of the scenes and reassembled them," he said. "So in the end you hear a continuous story which is cut into 33 pieces and repeated together in a new order" (see Carol Rocamora's recent Havel biography, Acts of Courage). As Hummel deals with the various women in his life, a fellow social scientist and her crew arrive to analyze him. This situation is played out within a structure reminiscent of classical French farce. The play's depiction of the human condition has a buoyancy that perhaps reflects the easing of government restrictions in Czechoslovakia at that time; but its awareness of the possibility of social control reflects a political situation that had existed there previously and that was to recur with the invasion by Soviet troops a few months after the play's premiere. An English-language production of the play was presented by the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center in December 1969 and earned Havel an Obie award for distinguished play. The Increased Difficulty of Concentration was first presented by True Comedy Theatre Company in November 2006 at the Ohio Theatre in New York as part of the Vaclav Havel Festival. The production premiered a sparkling new translation of the play by Stepan S. Simek that remains faithful to the original text while seeking to be particularly accessible to a contemporary American audience. It uses an original rock music score by William Niederkorn composed for the Havel Festival and recorded by the Mendoza Line, an indie rock band based in Brooklyn that is already a legend, with many lyrically intense and musically delightful CDs.