Sarah East, Jon Patrick O’Brien (in window), Dara Tiller, & Neill Robertson in The Language Archive. Photo by Bill Brymer.
The Language Archive
By Julia Cho
Directed by Gil D. Reyes
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Love is mysterious and perplexing, and poets have yet to exhaust its rich potential. Is there a greater, more pervasive theme in the whole of human creative expression? How many words have been used in the service of attempting to capture its ephemeral aspects?
Julia Cho’s The Language Archive is less about love than the words, or lack of them, we employ to articulate our feelings. If each romantic relationship between two people is unique, then each couple must certainly, as director Gil Reyes puts it in his program note, “…unknowingly craft the language that belongs only to them.”
For George (Jon Patrick O’ Brien) and Mary (Kate Bringardner), that language has failed. Cryptic notes and illogical tears from Mary alarm George, but he is ill equipped to respond, and Mary leaves him. George retreats to his work as an archivist of endangered languages, working with his assistant Emma (Sarah East) to record conversation between the last two Ellowans, Alta (Dara Tiller) and Resten (Neill Robertson). The two have flown to America for the project, but immediately erupt into an argument – in English, because their native language is too nurturing for such harsh words.
The academic exercise of exploring language, and the fictional, affectionately rendered ethnic culture allow Cho’s themes to be delivered with clarity and great humor. The early scenes are also filled with understated emotional impact that gives way to a more didactic tone at the end that, curiously, doesn’t follow through satisfactorily on the enigmatic character of what has come before. A happy ending is not required – Cho is up to something more subtle and complex than love conquers all, and how she wipes away the fourth wall for the last scene gives the illusion of closure while actually reaffirming that life is often untidy and unresolved, but still worthwhile.
Neill Robertson is one of those actors who seem capable of anything, and he plays the old man, Resten, with craft and flavor, capturing the character through a calibrated physicality. Dara Tiller is almost as good as Alta, and the fact that they play the aging couple without the aid of make-up may owe to the impracticality of also being utility players who must step into smaller roles, but these two players realized the characters beautifully enough without such artifice.
Jon Patrick O’ Brien and Kate Bringardner establish more emotionally grounded characters, in part because of the great sadness that Cho injects into George and Mary. There is great humor throughout, but also real pathos in the deconstruction of a dead relationship, and O’Brien is the solid center of the play. The always-engaging Sarah East illuminates another sad reality in Emma’s unrequited love for George, finding the integrity leading to sacrifice in the character.
Cho shows the American characters as having the greatest challenge in communicating emotionally, and suffering for it, and grants the Ellowans the grace of true love in its purest and perhaps most endurable form. It may feel a little pat, but Mr. Reyes directs his inestimable cast to discover and reveal to the audience the wealth of detail contained in her carefully crafted language, so that the journey is where the truth lies, more than the summation. The Language Archive succeeds in investing the audience in the lives of these characters so fully that we want more for them than Cho is willing to allow, yet her lack of sentimental resolution seems crucial to the point she is trying to make, that all dreams may not possible.
Hannah Allgeier provides a set of surprising depth on the cozy Baron’s stage, mostly functional and utilitarian, with 2 marvelous white reclining chairs that prove adept in serving as a variety of settings.
(The previously announced March 3 performance of The Language Archive has been canceled.)
The Language Archive
February 24, 25, 27, March 2, & 4 @ 8:00pm
March 5 @ 2:00pm
Tickets are $17 in advance and $22 at the door.
The Baron’s Theatre
131 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.