Every character in Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive” talks too much and says too little. Indeed, the sheer wordiness is at the crux of this often clever examination of the language of love that’s running at Park Square Theatre.
Cho’s characters are amazingly eloquent about their inability to communicate in any emotionally meaningful way. George, played with understated grace by Kurt Kwan, is a linguist who runs the Language Archive, a repository of rare and extinct languages. He can wax poetic about the death of obscure languages but finds himself tongue-tied at the prospect of telling his wife, Mary (Sara Ochs), that he loves her.
She has articulation issues of her own, leaving George cryptic bits of poetry on scraps of paper to express her deep unhappiness with their marriage. At the same time, George’s assistant, Emma (Emily A. Grodzik), finally resorts to another language — Esperanto — to offer oblique hints that she carries a torch for him.
All these bottled-up longings might make “The Language Archive” a fairly bleak and intellectual discourse on the nature of relationships, but Cho leavens the proceedings with heavy dollops of humor.
In the course of his work on obscure languages, George has flown in Alta and Resten (Claudia Wilkens and Richard Ooms), a couple from an unnamed country who constitute the last two existing speakers of Ellowan. He wants to capture their language before it vanishes, but upon arrival at the Language Archive, they refuse to speak anything but English, which they term “the language of anger.”
Their sniping and squabbling about everything from Alta’s cooking to who got the window seat on the flight to America push, and ultimately overstep, the limits of outrageous comedy.
Other characters drop in to offer everything from relationship advice and eye exams to Esperanto lessons and recommendations on where to find a really good loaf of bread.
These flights of fancy lead to some wild swings in tone from over-the-top comedy to elegiac poignancy to outright fantasy.
Director Rick Shiomi does a yeoman-like job of attempting to contain the play’s tendency to fly in too many directions, but he can’t completely solve the issues of meandering pace that result from the plot’s twist and turns. At the same time, near constant scene shifts, while cleverly handled, slow the pace of the proceedings further.
Despite the play’s leisurely nature, however, this is a mostly well-balanced production that often delights with its playfulness and offers some intriguing insights into how difficult that simple axiom “say what you mean and mean what you say” can be.
Lisa Brock is a Minneapolis writer.