Ironies abound in ‘The Language Archive’

The opening of TheatreWorks’ Silicon Valley’s 50th season on June 13 was bookended by standing ovations.

The first was for founder and artistic director Robert Kelley, while the second was for Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive.”

TheatreWorks recently was honored with the 2019 Regional Theatre Tony Award, accepted by Kelley and others.

Kelley, who has directed more than 175 TheatreWorks productions, plans to retire at the end of this season. Thus the ovation saluted him for all of his achievements as he came out for his usual pre-curtain speech.

In the play, George (Jomar Tagatac) is a linguist who has mastered many languages and who seeks to preserve languages that could go extinct.

For all his linguistic skills, however, George can’t communicate his feelings, especially with his wife, Mary (Elena Wright), who leaves him.

In the meantime, George brings to his lab an elderly couple, Resten (Francis Jue) and Alta (Emily Kuroda), who apparently come from a remote Eurasian area.

Rather than speaking their native tongue for him, though, they bicker so much in English that soon they aren’t speaking to each other. They have some of the play’s funniest scenes.

George is assisted by Emma (Adrienne Kaori Walters), who has secretly loved him for a long time, but she won’t tell him because he’s married.

Various encounters for the three main characters have positive but ironic outcomes.

For example, George couldn’t tell Mary how he felt. However when Emma tells him she’s leaving, he tells her how important she is to him and his work and how he can’t get along without her. For her, that’s enough.

Mary talked an old man (Jue) out of jumping in front of a rushing train, thus giving him the gift of life. He in turn gives her the gift of a livelihood.

Resten and Alta, faced with his imminent death, choose to return home but not before reconciling. They also tell George that they will become intertwining trees after they die. It’s a moving moment.

Director Jeffrey Lo skillfully guides the characters through their emotional journeys. His one misstep comes when Emma goes to a German woman (Kuroda) to learn Esperanto, an international language, to please George. As emphasis, the teacher often slams her pointer on a table, but this noisy gimmick soon becomes annoying.

Overall, though, the acting by all five cast members is outstanding, leading to an enjoyable, rewarding experience and earning the ovation.

Andrea Bechert’s monochromatic set facilitates scene changes, but squares that change color between scenes don’t add much.

More effective are Sinan Refik Zafar’s sound, Mike Palumbo’s lighting and Noah Marin’s costumes.

Running about two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, “The Language Archive” will continue through Aug. 4 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Judy RichterJudy reviews San Francisco Bay Area theater and writes feature articles about activities of the Stanford women's basketball team and Fast Break Club. A longtime Bay Area journalist, she is retired from the San Francisco Chronicle, where she was a writer and copy editor.View all posts by Judy Richter →