One of the most tender moments in a play loaded with them takes place between the linguist George and his wife Mary, a couple in danger of becoming two passing ships in the night. As she begins to move away from his heart and soul, he leans on the one thing he is sure of in this world – language.
“There is a certain language…our language,” says George, as desperation permeates his every timbre. “If you don’t come back, I can’t speak it anymore. Do you understand? We are the only two speakers of that language.”
“The Language Archive,” written with tenderness and heart by Julia Cho is a play that creates so many wonderful elixirs that allow each audience member to reflect on their own use of language, who has been the recipient of their language, and how our communicative abilities have enhanced or devastated us in our lives.
This production, running at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley through Sunday, Aug. 4th compels, despite a bit too much lull in a first act that feels too long, with some of Cho’s words too laborious in moments. The company’s casting director Jeffrey Lo, making his TheatreWorks main stage directorial debut, is in fine form leading a magnificent cast of five through all the murky issues that come with the play’s complex themes.
There is no doubt that George (a firm and commanding Jomar Tagatac) is in his element as a language scholar, but out of his depths having to use language when it comes to others. In addition to the struggles he has with wife Mary (an empathetic turn from Elena Wright), there is another connection he is not picking up, and that’s the fondness radiating from his assistant Emma (solid Adrienne Kaori Walters), whose love is distant and of the “let what you love go” variety. She is warm and supportive, not that George is picking up on any of it.
While none of the three are on the same wavelength pertaining to matters of the heart, George and Emma are all in on a case study whose language is on a respirator. They are the comically gifted Francis Jue and Emily Kuroda, who play Resten and Alta, respectively. A moment where both are ready to record their language of Elloway turns into speaking a whole lot of the language of anger – English.
That anger stems from two main things – the window seat and some crappy food. Their inflections when using English are grating – it’s high-pitched and quick, and both Emma and George are crestfallen. But when the couple finds their groove, the way they speak longingly to each other, with gentle warmth and a deep love, a passion that comes from loving longevity, a longevity that George longs for.
The play’s truths are driven with such wonderful understanding by Tagatac, who is solid in everything I’ve seen him do, an actor I’ve seen quite a bit. The way he uses his pacing, whether it’s to plead with Mary or grapple with his own conflicts is solid. His George is built internally, a man who pushes hard against a shaky stoicism in order to find where he is losing his ability to speak her language.
Walter’s own discoveries as Emma are certainly wonderful and fulfilling, using the concept of starters in bread as a metaphor for her own thrilling journey. And it is through this bread that we truly learn about a selfless love that Emma willingly gives.
The play’s structure is a great tablet for a plethora of acting styles. While Tagatac can focus more on a Meisner-like system of listening and reacting, Jue and Kuroda are given the keys to the car and drive it wherever they feel it needs to go, two veterans of the stage who are quite at home in comic or dramatic moments. And the set design of Andrea Bechert, which is a grand combination of metaphor, colors, foreshadowing and pragmatic functionality plays very well with Lo’s constant movement and tight transitions.
When I was a small child, I had great grandparents who spoke no English, and I didn’t understand a lick of what they were trying to tell me. But I didn’t really need to speak Spanish at all in order to understand them. The doting process of an elder is a language all its own, one that is universal – the head tilt and warm eyes, and the constant calling of anyone at least ten years younger as “mijo” or “mija” (and trying to explain to any non-Latinx person why we call everyone younger than us son or daughter).
The best moments in “The Language Archive” had nothing to do with Esperanto or Elloway. Those moments were reserved for the stares, the touches, and ultimately, the love that comes from every color that radiates on the stage.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley presents “The Language Archive”
Written by Julia Cho
Directed by Jeffrey Lo
The Word: Despite a bit of lag in act one, a tender and touching piece about all the ways we communicate and connect.
Stars: 4 out of 5
The Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto, CA, 94301
Through Aug. 4th
Running Time: Approximately two hours, 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Tickets range from $30 – $100
For tickets, call (650) 463-1960 or visit https://theatreworks.org/