It’s hard for me to know what to write about Forum’s new offering, Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive”. Not that I can’t commend the production – I think the play is very well performed and directed. But I think the play itself is far from perfect and, looking at reviews that have been posted when the play was offered in New York and California, I find that most reviewers agree with me.
The play is billed as a comedy and, while it has its comedic moments, it is a very sad play. Not at all what I would consider a comedy.
The subject is communication. George’s profession is the study of dying languages, finding the last speakers of tongues heading towards extinction, and getting them to record their conversations for later study. He himself speaks a number of living languages, and is a student of Esperanto, an artificial language developed in the late 19th century by L.L. Zamenhof, designed to become an international language.
Zamenhof (who actually is a character in the play, totally out of time and place), was both an ophthalmologist and a linguist. He grew up in Bialystok, then in Russia, now in Poland, then in Russia, and Kaunas, in Lithuania. In this atmosphere, people spoke Polish, Russian, German, Lithuanian and Yiddish, and they still could not communicate with the French, the English or the Italian. Zamenhof’s answer was to develop Esperanto, a simple language based on common roots and grammatical constructs.
Of course, Esperanto never lived up to the hopes of Zamenhof and his friends, although still today it has its adherents.
Yet, whether you are speaking a dying language, a living language like English, or Esperanto, how you speak and what you say is limited by your own psychology. And George had his problems communicating in any language.
Thus, his wife Mary (whose own communication skills are at least as bad as her husbands) decides she is going to leave him, and tells him that she is leaving because they could never communicate. Nothing could be more devastating to someone whose whole life is language. And he must balance his domestic distraught with his job of recording and saving languages, when faced with a bizarre elderly married couple, Resten and Alta, from somewhere in what appears to be the Balkans, and who spat and curse in English, because it is impossible to do so in Ellowan.
With his marriage beyond the rocks, George’s long time assistant Emma, thinks that maybe she has the opportunity to win his love. Unfortunately, she too cannot communicate, either in English or in the Esperanto that she is studying on the side.
So, what will happen to George, Mary, Emma and to Resten and Alta? Will there be a happy ending for any or for all? For that you must see the show, which opened this weekend.
You may recall that we saw Garcia Lorca’s ‘Blood Wedding’ a few weeks ago. Last night, we attended a reading of another of Garcia’s Lorca’s plays, ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’, at Constellation Theatre. It’s a short play – three acts, but only about an hour long, and has its similarities to ‘Blood Wedding’. Rural Spain, isolated and behind the times, with lives controlled by social patterns and expectations guaranteed to lead to frustration and tragedy. Bernarda Alba’s second husband has just died; she has five daughters, one by her first husband and four by her second. They range in age from 20 to 39. None is married, and now they are entering an eight year period of mourning. But a handsome young man, age 25, has made his presence known and Bernarda has agreed with him that he can marry her oldest daughter, without knowing that he has had his eyes (and in fact more than his eyes) on the youngest daughter. Tragedy follows – and the world must never know.