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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 24, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 21
Speaking in tongues - The Language Archive shows how love depends on words
Arts & Entertainment
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Speaking in tongues - The Language Archive shows how love depends on words

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE

SEATTLE PUBLIC THEATER
Through June 9


Great emotion can sometimes render one mute. That is especially ironic in The Language Archive, by Julia Cho and presented by Seattle Public Theater, since George (Mike Dooly) is a linguist and speaks multiple languages, yet he can't find the words to tell his wife, Mary (Candace Vance), he loves her.

Muteness in the face of strong emotion is a running theme throughout the play, when George's assistant (Heather Persinger) also wants to tell him she's in love with him, and an elderly couple who are the last surviving speakers of a language (Julie Jamieson and John Murray) speak English when they are mad at each other, rather than allow a recording to be made of their language of origin.

This description may give the impression that the play is one long downer, but it's not. The clearly failing relationship of George and Mary begins the play on a melancholic note, but there is a lot of gentle humor and the elderly couple inject energy and fun, as well. The play muses on missed opportunities and shows that sometimes people are simply mismatched, not evil toward each other.

In a particular poetic moment, George tells Mary that their marriage has created its own language, and the phrase 'Will you take out the garbage?' can mean many different things, including 'Don't leave me.' That's an entrancing idea, and one any couple can mull on afterward.

A LOSS FOR WORDS
Each actor is perfectly cast and eminently watchable. Dooly becomes frustratingly mute as his wife pleads for reassurance that he finds a way of providing far, far too late. Vance comes alive after leaving George, fulfilling herself as a baker - in a series of moments perfectly executed with real dough, real kneading, and real bread. Persinger is heartbreakingly sweet as the unfulfilled assistant who learns Esperanto just to tell George she loves him.

Most of the comic relief comes from Jamieson and Murray as multiple characters, most funny as the arguing Eastern Bloc couple, but also Jamieson's white-blond Lesbian German language instructor who practically bullies Emma (Persinger) to tell George she loves him in order to unlock her block to learning Esperanto.

A simple set of bookshelves is designed by Craig Wollam, mood lighting is offered by Tim Wratten, Evan Mosher helps provide recordings of languages, and Pete Rush creates versatile costumes, especially for Jamieson's quick change needs. It's another solid plus to one of the best seasons Seattle Public Theater has presented.

COMING ATTRACTIONS
Seattle Public's next season has been announced, with four productions:

Nathan Louis Jackson's Broke-ology (in partnership with the Hansberry Project) focuses on a man's desire for his sons to have a better life than he. American Wee-Pie, a comedy by Lisa Dillman, brings a middle-aged textbook editor to his hometown for a funeral where he finds himself pulled along on an unexpected journey of self-reinvention. Gidion's Knot, a 2013 Steinberg award-finalist play by Johnna Adams, presents a modern-day dilemma - a child's depictions of violence in his schoolwork and whether it should be looked at as a sign of pathology or a response to possibly being bullied. He can't tell his teacher or parent because he committed suicide. Finally, Arcadia is an acclaimed play by Tom Stoppard that has figures time-shift into the same room of the same house. It is a complicated work that has been staged before at SPT - artistic director Shana Bestock clearly adores it.

To see the Bestock-directed production The Language Archive, go to www.seattlepublictheater.org or call (206) 524-1300. A special post-show discussion is scheduled for June 1, featuring a panel of language experts.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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