Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Language Archive

Asian American Julia Cho's new play, The Language Archive, is a surprisingly entertaining and satisfying piece of theatre with a simple message currently playing at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre on West 46th Street.  I've seen the play up on the "paper the house" ticket sites that I belong to and assumed it was one of those, you know, marginal plays with a subscription base that wasn't quite pulling its seat filling weight.  Well, I was wrong.

George (Matt Letscher) and Mary (Heidi Schreck) are married but something is just not right.  George is a brilliant linguist, a scientist of sorts - a preserver and documentarian of languages no longer spoken.  Mary is simply unhappy - with life, herself, and being married to George - yet George, the brilliant linguist is at a loss for words when it comes to Mary.  Into his laboratory, or library as it were, comes Alta (Jayne Houdyshell) and Resten (John Horton), an elderly couple from a distant land (Uzbekistan-like, by the looks of their humorous frocks) who are the last two speakers of another dying language.  He expects to record their conversations and preserve their tongue, but what he gets instead is a lesson in life and love.  George's wife leaves him to find herself, Emma (Betty Gilpin), George's assistant goes on a journey to summon the courage to reveal her unrequited love for him, and Alta and Resten fight (in English) like you'd expect an old married couple to do.  

Cho has brilliantly woven the fabric of the characters together, an overlapping pattern of sorts.  Each of them experiences something unexpected in their life and each of them learns from the others both through direct dialogue and indirectly through circumstance and observation.  In the end, Cho's message is not about language at all, it's about love - the many different types of love and how not everyone may end up loving the way they expect. 

Mark Brokaw's direction was smart and the grand moving bookcase sets by Neil Patel set the perfect mood and atmosphere for the story.  Overall, this play was quietly powerful.  No guns, no strobe lights, no 3D effects - just an enjoyable evening in the theatre with an honest message about life.  Thank you Julia Cho.