Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, the Model Critic
The Language Archive by Julia Cho has an auspicious beginning–a clever theme, full of promise. But sadly, as the play progresses, instead of adventure and insight, we get a routine Carnival Cruise Line five-day vacation to one island and back. What follows is a one-dimensional, black and white juxtaposition of airy concepts.
George, (Matt Letscher), a passionate expert on languages, can’t communicate his feelings to his wife. His wife, Mary (Heidi Schreck), on the other hand, has an abundance of emotions as she strangely weeps, and leaves arcane, poetic messages for George to find. When they do speak, Mary says she has no idea what George is saying.
George, in the meantime, has invited an aging foreign couple to his lab, to tape their soon to be extinct language. They hail from a far eastern European “Borat-like” land, and speak Elloway Alta (Jayne Houdyshell) and Reston (John Horton) are ersatz noble savages. They bicker in English because “its the language of anger,” buy otherwise, they speak Elloway because its the language of love. In Elloway,they don’t say “I love you,” they say, “I could never live without you.”
Mary walks out on George, and meets a man at the train station. He is carrying a parcel, and is on his way to commit suicide. He has been a baker all his life, and is taking his most important possession–his “starter.” He gives it to Mary, and she decides to embark on a new life as a baker herself.
Emma (Betty Gilpin), George’s attractive assistant, is hopelessly in love with George, and to impress him, decides to learn Esperanto. Literally throwing herself at him, poor George doesn’t see. When they hug, George weeps remembering his wife, and Emma smiles now that she finally ends in his arms.
All this literal construction, gives the play an artificial feeling–Theatre of the Absurd-light, and gets in the way of a theatrical piece that is very well crafted, clean, learned. It is well directed by Mark Brokaw with quick pacing and fluid transitions, and the set design by Neil Patel was astonishingly handsome.
As for the acting, Jayne Houdyshell and John Horton make the evening enjoyable in their multiple roles. As for the principles, all were finely skilled actors without a script to work with. The old saying that they’re are no bad scripts, only bad actors is not true here. There was little character development, and the actors struggled to breathe life into a play more concerned with literal concepts and structure than real people.
Key art illustration (above) by Darren Booth