What does it mean when one spouse asks the other to take out the garbage? It all depends on the couple and the context.
That’s one of the insights of The Language Archive, a play by Julia Cho that debuted off-Broadway in 2010 and is on view now at Silver Spring Stage. Another related kernel of wisdom is that if one spouse or partner should walk out on the other, an entire language would die in addition to the relationship. Because, as in the case of the garbage or other loftier exchanges, lovers tend to develop a language of their own, and the inability to do so usually doesn’t bode well.
Director Joseph Coracle and his well-chosen, capable cast do their best and lend charm to a play that’s a bit of a hodge-podge…
Cho adds the revelation that if speaking seems the natural state of humans—who, after all, are the only one animal that fully can—it also takes a certain amount of courage, because words are attached to meaning, and we can disagree about the meaning.
These are interesting but not profound observations. Despite some humor, charm, and insight, however, the playwright’s tale of a scholar of dead and dying languages who cannot communicate with his disgruntled wife or understand the unspoken but fairly obvious affection felt for him by his archive assistant, is weaker than the director and actors who have brought it to life at Silver Spring.
As George, the linguist, Jonas David Grey combines intellectualism, befuddlement, cold-heartedness—he grieves more over a moribund language than over a dead person or pet, and doesn’t even cry over sad movies—and likeability. He also evokes pathos when discovering, too late, what love really means. We feel the utter frustration of a man whose entire life is spent studying words, but whose marital relationship has been reduced to his wife leaving him notes to express her emotions.
Although George’s wife, Mary, is clearly unhappy in her marriage, she doesn’t leave him for another romance as might be stereotypically expected. Instead, a chance meeting at a bus station with a man we assume she’ll be involved with turns around her life in a different way. She finds happiness in a new career, baking. Karen Fleming’s Mary is effective in being sadly inarticulate in Act I, and joyously alive and fulfilled in the better-written Act II.
Juliana Ejedoghaobi has relatively few lines but brings a memorable sweetness to the role of Emma, the withdrawn assistant who works side by side with George studying languages. A noble character, she continues to be indispensable to the slightly clueless George, while not revealing her deeper feelings for him.
Alta and Resten are a married couple from an undefined place (maybe Eastern Europe, from the accents?) that comes to the archive so George can study their (fictional) dying language. Yet, they spend most of their time cursing at and insulting each other in English, because, as they explain, it’s a language more suitable for that. But unlike the main characters, they have a deep, mutual, and clear affection for each other. Lennie Magida and Kevin Dykstra steal the show with these over-the-top characters.
In her attempt to win George’s love, Emma enrolls in an Esperanto class, a constructed language he knows how to speak. Andrea Spitz is funny as the rather aggressive Instructor, who dispenses advice about love (heterosexual and gay) along with vocabulary. Michael Sigler does well as both the world-weary—even suicidal—baker who nonetheless bequeaths his business and a sense of purpose to Mary as well as Ludwik Zamenhof, the physician who incidentally invented Esperanto.
His appearance—Zamenhof died in 1917—adds fantasy a play that already combines absurdist and realistic elements.
Director Joseph Coracle and his well-chosen, capable cast do their best and lend charm to a play that’s a bit of a hodge-podge, much like the Esperanto (sewn together from various languages) at its heart.
The star of the show, though, may be the set, designed by Bill Brown—which is composed almost entirely of cardboard legal boxes that serve multiple purposes as props and as a reflection of George’s obsession with words.
Peter Caress is the lighting designer, and Kevin Garrett is the sound designer. Original music is by Patrick Hughes.
Costumes are largely contemporary—except for the outfits worn by Alta and Resten and Zamenhof. All are designed by Harlene Leahy.
Gary Sullivan, the dialect coach, lends authenticity to the accents.
Advisory: There are a few instances of crude language.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
The Language Archive continues through May 2, 2015, at Silver Spring Stage, Woodmoor Shopping Center, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD 20901.
For tickets, call (301) 593-6036 or click here.