Monday, July 15, 2019

"The Language Archive" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Good as principal actors Jomar Tagatac and Elena Wright are, the supporting actors steal the new TheatreWorks production of Julia Cho's "The Language Archive." Resten (Francis Jue) and Alta (Emily Kuroda) are the last speakers of Ellowan, a dying language spoken in a cold and faraway place where fur hats are worn with blue and black knee socks. Tagatac plays linguist George who is desperate to record this native tongue before, like so many others, it disappears.

The problem is Resten and Alta keep speaking English. The reason is they are in the middle of what appears to be a lifelong argument, ostensibly about her cooking and his body odor. Since Ellowan is the language of love, while English is the language of anger, naturally Reston and Alta are forced to argue in English.

Meanwhile, George's marriage to Mary (Elena Wright) has fallen apart. He and his wife cannot fathom each other. Mary tries leaving poetry scattered around the house but George does not understand it. He speaks more than a dozen foreign languages but cannot comprehend his wife.

Mary takes off on her own. She ends up standing on a railway platform where she meets a distraught older man, an ex-baker named Baker. Also played by Francis Jue, Mr. Baker and Mary befriend each other and bring common sense into each other's lives. He gives her his prize possession: his starter. You can't make great bread without a starter. And you can't move forward in your life without starting over.

The show is staged beautifully by director Jeffrey Lo, with actors entering and exiting from all over the theater. Noah Marin's costumes are perfect, especially those of Resten and George. Jue and Kuroda are belly-laugh funny in all their roles. Adrienne Kaori Walters plays George's love-struck lab assistant. We can't understand why she would be in love with stick-in-the-mud George, but she is.

"The Language Archive" is more than a love or out-of-love story. It talks to us about the power of language to mold the way people see themselves and others. We love this show.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "The Language Archive" THREE STARS WITH A BANGLE OF PRAISE. Story, ensemble and direction earn One Star each. The Bangle of Praise is for the way Francis Jue and Emily Kuroda stop becoming caricatures by also being beautifully human. In our current world, we live in an environment of manipulated hatred, where being the least bit different is cause for mistrust. Julia Cho seems to be telling us to relax. We can be angry or happy, satisfied or frustrated, in any language. It is always our choice.

"The Language Archive"
The Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 4

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