by Beki Pineda
THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE – Written by Julia Cho; Directed by Margaraet Norwood. Produced by Vintage Theatre (1468 Dayton, Aurora) through June 16. Tickets available at 303-856-7830 or vintagetheatre.com.
Ms. Cho has written a whimsical little play about people who work inside the field of dialects and yet do not know how to communicate. On the surface, everyone is so polite to one another and yet nearly all harbor secret longings that they cannot articulate. A wife is lonely and wants solace from her unaware husband. A husband versed in multiple languages, yet can’t find the words to make the wife he adores happy. A secretary who hides behind efficiency rather than expression. An older couple who represent a dying dialect which they use to express love and the softer side of life while arguing vehemently in “ugly” English. But at least they are talking to one another. Ms. Cho has created an unusual vehicle to express her ideas about the language of love – of a people – a couple – of food.
She has also created two of the most charming and new characters seen on a stage recently. Alta and Resten represent a community harboring a dying dialect – an event that the professor says happens nearly every two weeks. They display the characteristics of a long married couple in ways beyond language – in the small unthinking kindnesses, in the knowledge that they can argue like cats and dogs and then move on lovingly, in their ability to say hurtful words and then be forgiven. They speak in ancient Elloway when they speak of ordinary things but argue in English – the language of hurt. Modern civilization is almost too much for them but humor and love save the day. Ray Kemble and Darcy Kennedy embody these characters with an easy knowledge and a most believable love. They take two charmingly written characters and add their own personal charm to the written word to make them jump off the page and into your hearts.
George (played with an air of dazed confusion by William Kahn) is the linguist who collects dying languages and tapes them for the archive. For someone versed in the subtleties and nuances of language, George is unable to communicate with his wife Mary (Leslie Randle). Mary is unhappy but doesn’t know exactly what she wants, just not what she has. She looks in vain to George to find the words to comfort her. George is also oblivious of how his assistant Emma (Selena Naumoff) feels about him. Christine Kahane adds a distinctive personality as a language instructor who encourages Emma to tell George how she feels. Bruce Smith in a small but significant role plays a man at a train station contemplating suicide who changes the course of Mary’s journey to a place where she learns to express herself through baking. Slowly, gradually, everyone finds a way to find their better place.
A versatile set has been designed by Phil Cope and dressed by Andy Bakehouse which utilizes furniture that pulls out of the walls and provides multiple acting spaces from the language lab, George and Mary’s living room, a hospital room, a bakery, a train station and more with very little interruption to the flow of the scenes. In a play about language, Sound Designer Rick Reid played an important part in enhancing the story through various effects.
I read back over this review and realize that it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in terms of the story. But believe me, you’ll follow the story with ease, believe in these characters, and applaud the successful outcomes for some of them. But mostly you’ll enjoy Alta and Resten’s loving squabbles about things as insignificant as who has to take the center seat on the airplane and why he insults her cooking. I look forward to seeing these two characters show up in a play all their own.
A WOW factor of 9!!