The conflict of communication the focus of City Lights’ ‘The Language Archive’

Emma (Kendall Callaghan) attempts to connect to her boss George (Jeffrey Bracco) in "The Language Archive" at City Lights Theatre Company, running through June 29th. ( photo)
Emma (Kendall Callaghan) attempts to connect to her boss George (Jeffrey Bracco) in “The Language Archive” at City Lights Theater Company, running through June 29th. ( photo)

George is a scholar at a language archive, and is an expert in languages that are becoming extinct, such as the late 19th century language Esperanto. He is a master communicator, a scholar whose expertise in linguistics and cultures has unlocked many enigmatic secrets about these disappearing languages and what the future has in store for them. Put another way, he is fascinated with something he can master.

This is not the case for George’s personal life. While professionally he is in control of his world, personally, that same life is in tatters. George searches and searches for the right words to use with his wife. But as hard as he tries, he is at a loss to connect to her, throwing their marriage in a tailspin.

Julia Cho’s play, “The Language Archive,” which opens on Saturday, May 31st at City Lights Theatre Company and directed by Virginia Drake, is a play that explores the irony of a master linguist who has no words to use towards his wife Mary to keep her from leaving him. He is also having trouble deciphering the feelings that others use towards him, especially the secret crush coming from his lab assistant Emma.

“That’s the great conflict with this character. He is always looking for the right words,” said Jeffrey Bracco, who is playing George. “Part of his conflict is that his wife wants him to say the right words, and there just really aren’t the right words. His conflict is really what is inside of him.”

Bracco certainly understands the struggles George is going through. The struggles that permeate George’s daily life are unfortunate, but not uncommon. Bracco’s belief is that, because George is so passionate about language and spoken word, it leaves him very little room for other, more meaningful connections.

“It’s frustrating, it’s not easy to communicate your passion and emotions versus your intellect,” said Bracco. “He has really strong emotions, and those are not always easy to translate or commit to something else.”

One of the perks of working on this show is that it gives Bracco a chance to work with City Lights’ executive artistic director Lisa Mallette, who plays Mary. He and Mallette have known each other for more than 25 years, yet have never worked on stage together. For him, the connection and trust that comes with working with an old friend came natural early on.

“We’ve been friends for a long time, and when we started rehearsals, we were really able to connect to each other right away,” said Bracco. “There is a certain comfort level with her, and we were able to play off each other right away.

George’s dilemma is something Bracco can make great parallels with. He is a teacher at Santa Clara University, and is passionate about educating young minds. In addition, he works with many who are passionate about what they teach as well. And those whose job is to continue the history of a subject matter can certainly relate to what George goes through on a daily basis.

“George has a great passion and enthusiasm to preserve culture, history and language,” said Bracco. “He wants to hold on to all of that. Anyone in society who has that kind of job, connecting the past to the present, is a great parallel.”

Drake and Bracco have had many conversations about how to create the arc of his character

“We’ve looked at quite a few scenes in play, as well as just monologues my character speaks and found a really strong through line,” said Bracco. “We’ve talked about George’s journey quite a bit, his personal journey with his wife and his professional journey as well, and they very much parallel each other. One of the ways they are parallel is that his job as a linguist is to try and preserve languages and cultures that are dying out, and he is trying to do the same with his marriage.”


City Lights Theater Company presents “The Language Archive”
Written by Julia Cho
Directed by Virginia Drake
Through June 29th
City Lights Theater
529 S. Second St., San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $17 – $35
For tickets, call (408) 295-4200 or visit


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