Dreamcatcher Rep Makes The Best of Julia Cho's
Also see Bob's review of A Delicate Balance
George is the dedicated director of a language archive. He ambitiously seeks out speakers of dead and dying languages in order to record them for prosperity. Sadly, this language expert and lover of words is a cold, emotionally repressed individual who cannot find the words to reach out to communicate to his wife Mary the love that he thinks that he has for her. At her wits' end, Mary has taken to writing elliptical notes (which she denies having written) on scraps of paper expressing her dissatisfaction at George's lack of affection ("Husband or throw pillow? Wife or hot-water bottle? Marriage or an old cardigan? Love or explaining how to use the remote control?"). Although George is too withdrawn and distracted to have any sense of it, Mary will shortly leave him.
In his office, George is trying to record an elderly couple, Alta and Resten (the last remaining speakers of the dead language Elloway), whom, judging by their appearance, have flown in from a Eurasian country. However, they are at war with each other (really about more than Resten having made Alta sit in the middle seat on the plane). They will only speak in English while they attack one another because they regard English as the language of anger. Additionally, George is blind to the fact that his amanuenses Emma is desperately in love with him. She is studying Esperanto because George is in love with it.
Unfortunately, despite some impressive goodies which she has placed before us, Cho has failed to shape her materials into a cohesive, manageably sized play. There are too many scenes, a number of which reiterate points already made, and they clutter the landscape. It is particularly Cho's unnecessarily extended 95-minute first (of two) act that becomes tedious. The farcical and bleakly emotional scenes bump into one another without any flow or integration between them. Although Dreamcatcher's master comical actors, Harry Patrick Christian and Noreen Farley, are totally delightful as Resten and Alta, respectively, their comic exchanges are so extended that the balance between the farcical and emotional scenes is askew. It is interesting to be informed that there are 6500 languages in the world and that more than half are expected to die within the next century, but these and a number of other purported facts are conveyed via off-putting pedagogic pronouncements.
Cho ultimately tells us that Mary was the object of George's undying love, but, as portrayed by Cho, George clearly is a man whose love is exclusively reserved for language (it did not appear to me that, sans revisions to the text, this could be seen any other way). Thus, the essential point of George's inability to use language to communicate his feelings being responsible for his marital woes is vitiated. And, on a lighter note, just when and where did the Elloway speaking bumpkins learn to speak English?
Scott McGowan conveys the deep loneliness of George so movingly that, rather than putting us off, we sympathize with George because of his bearing the curse of a cold heart. Nicole Callender brings a quiet and sympathetic dignity to her Mary. Janet Sales touches us with the quiet suffering of Emma, whose unrequited love would never cause her to abandon her decency. Playing additional roles, Harry Patrick Christian as both a Baker and Zamenhof (the inventor of Esperanto) and Nora Farley as Emma's Esperanto instructor ably demonstrate their versatility.
The witty scenic design of Dave Maulbeck is a marvel in using inventive design (including simple homemade crayon drawings) to provide effective, efficient stage settings.
Julie Cho is a most promising young American playwright. Dreamcatcher Rep is to be praised for bringing her most recent effort to New Jersey audiences.
The Language Archive continues performances through February 10, Friday - Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 2 pm, at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at the Oakes Center, 120 Morris Avenue, Summit, New Jersey 07901; Box Office: 908-514-9654; 800-838-3006 (Brown Paper Tickets)/ on-line: www.dreamcatcherrep.org.
The Language Archive by Julia Cho; directed by Laura Ekstrand