The Language Archive an absurdist farce with heart.

(l to r): Resten (Francis Jue), linguist George (Jomar Tagatac), his assistant Emma (Adrienne Kaori Walters), and Alta (Emily Kuroda) have a confusing recording session in “The Language Archive,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley July 10 – August 4 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. Photo Credit: Alessandra Mello

The Language Archive: Comedy by Julia Cho. Directed by Jeffrey Lo, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, CA. (650) 463-1960  or   July 10 – August 4, 2019. 

The Language Archive an absurdist farce with heart. Rating: ★★★★★

For their first program of their 50th season TheatreWorks of Silicon Valley again demonstrates the quality that earned them the 2019 Regional Theatre Tony Award. It is feel good play with absurdist farce juxtaposed with a heart-tugging theme populated with superb actors performing on a high-tech set with audience participation that will have you smiling long after you leave the theatre. The fourth wall is broken multiple times beginning with the first scene. 

George (Jomar Tagatac) informs us that his wife Mary (Elena Wright) cries while cooking, doing housework and even uses her tears to seal envelopes. On the other hand George has never cried. This lack of communication between the two is amplified when George fails to see the significance to her poetic notes placed throughout the house. She is about to leave and George will be devastated. 

George steps back into the play and we meet faithful laboratory assistant Emma (Adrienne Kaori Walters), and in a scene that is a direct steal from Pygmalion they are setting up a state of the art recording machine. Their intention is to record and preserve dying languages. They bring in Alta (Emily Kuroda) and Resten (Francis Jue) a married Eastern European couple who speak a dying language and George is hopeful they will speak in complete sentences. It is not to be. 

Immediately the couple breaks into shouts because Resten always gets the aisle seat in airplanes. Their anger escalates especially about Alta’s cooking. It is an absurdist farcical situation as they finally explain that “English is the language of anger.” The recording studio is left in shambles.

But the play must go on and we learn that Emma who is secretly in love is taking Esperanto lessons to impress George. The teacher (Kuroda again) is a task master with a forceful demeanor in explaining the language of love and encourages Emma to express her feelings. 

Before that may happen there are a series of scenes where Jue and Kuroda play various personalities who meet the main characters to further define motivation. Mary meets a stranger on a train platform and when she prevents him from jumping he gives her a gift that starts her on life changing journey of running a bakery. 

In one scene Emma is having problems with her eyesight and meets  L. L. Zamenhof the long dead founder of Esperanto (Jue again) who pulls out eye charts while they have a conversation about unobtainable love. 

Without preamble George gives the audience a lesson in Esparanto and the audience almost in unison repeat the words he is teaching. This clever device certainly pulled the audience into the play that has other twists and turns.

Julia Cho is a master of play construction and cleverly brings back Alta and Resten in a hospital room where Resten is apparently dying. It is hardly a sad scene since there is a reaffirmation of their unexpressed love for each other but once again with brilliant absurdist humor. 

Other details are almost too numerous to follow and Cho leaves a few questions unanswered but that is the way of the world.   

The high tech set is an idiosyncrasy that does not add to the tenure of the story-line but allows quick set changes to keep the action flowing. That is the only caveat in this production that is mentioned only in passing since the acting of Emily Kuroda and Francis Jue are sufficient reason to see this play. The superb acting by Tagatac, Walters and Wright is additive. 

The costumes designed by Noah Marin are colorful and playful adding to the absurdist humor.

The lighting is problematic because of the set design but Sinan Refik Zafar’s sound design earns accolades. The direction by Jeffery Lo extracts the maximum pleasure possible from Julia Cho’s journey into non-realistic theatre keeping the philosophical in balance with the absurd. 

Running time is two hours and 25 minutes with an intermission and is highly recommended. 

CAST: Francis Jue as Resten;  Emily Kuroda as Alta; Jomar Tagatac as George; Elena Wright as Mary, George’s wife; Adrienne Kaori Walters as Emma. 

ARTISTIC STAFF: Directed by Jeffrey Lo; Scenic Designer Andrea Bechert; Costume Designer Noah Marin; Lighting Designer Mike Palumbo; Sound Designer Sinan Refik Zafar; Dialect Coach Janel Miley; Casting Director Jeffrey Lo; Stage Manager Taylor McQuesten.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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