Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Lanuage Archive

Last Saturday afternoon, I went to see The Language Archive, Julia Cho's romantic comedy about love and miscommunication. The play made its world premiere at South Coast Repertory on March 26th and will be playing there through April 25th.

The play offers a cornucopia of themes and emotions, and is sure to tug the heartstrings of every audience member - from the book smart intelligentsia to the artsy type to the stay at home mom, and everyone who falls in between or is a hybrid combination of 'types.'

The play, which just won the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, tells the story of George, a brilliant linguist who knows how to talk to everyone except his wife, Mary, who is about to leave him.
George is a man who is precise, and uses language with respect and economy. When his wife Mary begins crying regularly and unexpectedly, he wonders why she is "sad." Mary tells the audience that she cries because she feels deep emotion; she cries, "because it is so true, or because it is so beautiful, or because it is so tragic.." Mary is frustrated by her husband's seeming lack of emotional connection with her, and ultimately, with life.

[Betsy Brandt and Leo Marks. Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR]

Meanwhile, at work, George is in danger of losing his chance to record the dying Elloway language. Its last two speakers - an elderly married couple - are in the midst of a fight, and they refuse to speak their native tongue until they resolve the argument in English.

"English is the language of anger...say something in English and you can always take it back."

[Tony Amendola, Leo Marks, Laura Heisler and 
Linda Gehringer. Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR]

All the while, George's assistant Emma has a not-so-secret crush on George, and goes to great lengths to get his attention. The action of the play shows her learning Esperanto, the so-called "perfect language" that George greatly admires. From her language teacher, Emma receives some valuable (and hilarious) advice about love and language. 

"I never knew learning a language could require such bravery."
"My dear, nothing on earth could require more!"

[Laura Heisler and Linda Gehringer.  Photo by Henry DiRocco/ SCR]

Without giving away too much, I'll say that the play stirs up your feelings about human connection and language fallibility. Cho touches on the powerful theme that language, or our ability to use language effectively, struggles (and sometimes fails) to bridge the gap from one person's heart to another's.

[Leo Marks and Betsy Brandt.  Photo by Henry DiRocco/ SCR] 

"It is sad to be the last speaker of your language. Yes, it is."

On my blip: John Lennon's "Instant Karma"

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