by Michael Meigs
Julia Cho's The Language Archive is a gently sentimental tale built inside a concept, similar to the way nesting birds inhabit a hedge. The theme is the failure of communication, and the metaphor is a collection of recordings and documents describing extinct languages curated by George, a fussy, white-coated linguist who's tongue-tied when it comes to expressing any sentiment.
Cho writes her characters as variations on that theme. The gulf between George and his wife Mary is so unbridgeable that Mary tucks cryptic notes into his belongings and denies having done so. George babbles frantically of what's on his heart -- but he addresses the audience instead of Mary. Alta and Resten are the last speakers of an obscure, apparently Central European language, but they're constantly furious with one another and refuse to use that language of intimacy, to the dismay of George the archivist. George's assistant of five years, Emma, loves him beyond reason but also, unfortunately, beyond telling. Esperanto, the completely artificial world language, turns up repeatedly, principally because of its perpetual failure to flourish.
|Jennifer Underwood, Norman Blumensaadt (photo: Bret Brookshire)|
There's a lot of quiet desperation here, confirming the conventional wisdom that effective comedy is really built on pain. How glad we all are -- playwright, actors and audience -- that by the very action of participating in this evening's performance, we're confirming our own attachment to communicating and to receiving the messages of this story.
Comedy there is, too. Different stages regulars Jennifer Underwood and Norman Blumensaadt as the feisty, querelous and mutually scornful old couple in tribal dress get off one zinger after another, both verbal and mimetic. Their vivid tussles are all the more amusing for those who know that Blumensaadt the company founder has often directed Underwood in her leading roles. Each time she's eloquent and expressive, but her grumpy, silent fury and glowering in this piece remind us that she's a knockabout comedienne, as well.
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