George, Mary, Emma, Alta, Resten and Bernarda Alba (51 cents)

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.


3 thoughts on “George, Mary, Emma, Alta, Resten and Bernarda Alba (51 cents)

  1. Your comment that, “Of course, Esperanto never lived up to the hopes of Zamenhof and his friends” needs a comment, I feel. Esperanto is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and maintains a lively self-perpetuating international speech community. That survival through two world wars, the “cold war”, terrorism and financial crises is quite remarkable.

    Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries. Over recent years I have had guided tours of Berlin, Douala and Milan in this planned language.

    You can do anything in Esperanto you can do in any other language: preach a moving sermon, make a tub-thumping political speech, write scientific papers, read gossip and news on Libera Folio and in a host of periodicals, and react to other people’s views, sing folk-songs and hymns, perform in or watch a play, scold disobedient children. You can be honest, dishonest, devious, alarmingly frank. Esperanto is “infinitely functional”. Of course, there is messiness, and people make false starts and don’t always complete what they intend to say. What people say can be misunderstood as in any other language, but clarification can easily be sought and given.

  2. You speak of Esperanto as something historical – personally I would not dare to forecast the future. 😦

    Many ignorant people describe Esperanto as “failed” – other ignorant people say that if human beings were meant to fly, God would have given them wings.

    Esperanto is neither artificial nor a failure however. As the British Government now employs Esperanto translators it has ceased to be a hobby. More recently this international language was used to address the United Nations in Bonn.

    During a short period of 125 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide. It is the 22nd most used language in Wikipedia, ahead of Danish and Arabic. It is a language choice of Google, Skype, Firefox, Ubuntu and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers, (people who have used the language from birth), include World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet. Financier George Soros learnt Esperanto as a child.

    Esperanto is a living language – see

    Their new online course has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad 🙂

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