Julia Cho's The Language Archive is a play of ideas. While the characters are all well drawn, it is the ideas and themes that Cho really seems interested in exploring and, throughout the play, the audience is led between them gracefully.
George (Stuart Hicks) is an academic who works for an archive dedicated to the preservation of dead and dying languages. His wife, Mary (Skye Stafford), is deeply unhappy, bursting into tears at the drop of a hat, filling her hours with housework and leaving scraps of paper with her most abstract thoughts scattered around for him to find. The irony here is that George is unable to speak to Mary about her depression. He is a man familiar with dozens of languages, most of them dead, but he cannot find the words to tell her how much he cares.
The show also deals with George and his assistant, Emma (Megan Boehmer), bringing a married couple, Alta (Susanna Harrison) and Resten (Ed Mierjeski), to the archive. They are the last speakers of Elloway, an Eastern European language mostly dead since 1954. Alta and Resten are in the middle of a massive fight from the minute they arrive at the archive and will only speak in English, which they describe as the language of hate, much more suited to their fighting than the beautiful Elloway.
While communication is an important theme of the play, the idea that all lovers have their own language which becomes dead when they part is a powerful one. That's billions of dead languages over the centuries only shared by two (or more for you poly folk) people in love, whether for life or for even a few weeks or months. When a relationship starts slipping away and the distance between lovers becomes greater, the thought of whether there are any combinations of words to make everything okay again looms large and The Language Archive confronts that question with a fairly definitive answer.
The performances in CTC's staging of The Language Archive vary in quality, with Skye Stafford and Susanna Harrison notably seizing their roles with a gorgeous immediacy. In particular, Harrison takes Alta, which as written could be an almost one-note stereotype, and finds moments of subtlety and nuance to layer throughout. Any time Alta is angry, there is sadness; any time she is joyous, she is haunted, and Harrison plays Alta's tones with skill and grace.
The true star of The Language Archive, however, is director Tori Miller. The set is brilliantly designed, with every inch being used for multiple purposes, like a library becoming a hospital room in a matter of moments. The humor derived from the Alta and Resten scenes is very broad—barely a step away from a winkwink-nudgenudge to the audience. Yet it never threatens to tonally shift the play out of the thematic work Cho has laid. Miller always places emotion first, making Cho's sometimes writerly dialogue more palatable.
The Language Archive is a cerebral piece, haunting in moments and hilarious in others. The piece's true motive is a brilliant one: to tell everyone, no matter the language being spoken, that they are heard, then understood and then, finally, loved.
The Language Archive
7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday.
Cascades Theatrical Company. 148 NW Greenwood Ave.