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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 3.3.11

 

What Cant Be Said, What Must Be Said

Ashlands Oregon Shakespeare Festival runs Feb. 18 through Oct. 9; info & tickets at www.osfashland.org Photo by David Cooper

Dead languages pile up and spill over the set of The Language Archive, each towering stack of boxes threatening to bury their archivist in the tapes and transcripts of loss.

In Julia Chos recent play, men and women cant communicate and cant quite figure out why. The script mixes funny, touching, realistic, heartstring-tugging, clichéd, whimsical and absurd elements in a two-act package that wields irony as a blunt weapon (language archivist George, played by Rex Young, speaks many language but cant communicate with his wife ã get it?), though it often redeems itself through painfully, awkwardly tender moments.

The plot centers on the yearnings of George, his wife Mary (Kate Mulligan, whos marvelous) and his besotted assistant Emma (Susannah Flood, whose gawky/cute mannerisms work well here). Add a bit of the "our elders from faraway villages arent perfect but impart wisdom to us” trope, as the last two speakers of Elloway (Richard Elmore and Judith Delgado) find meaning at the end of their lives and the life of their language, then mix in a few set pieces in train stations, bakeries and language classes and let rise.

Delgado, a newcomer to the festival, stands out as the language teacher, though the entire cast produces a surprisingly strong warmth, wringing it from their characterizations rather than the script itself. Still, what with the occasional flight of poetic fancy from George, a marvelous smell at just the right time (how did you cue that, OSF?), jokes about the Dutch facility with languages and the palpable sadness underlying every moment, The Language Archive offers a satisfying couple of hours in the immediacy of the New Theatre. ã Suzi Steffen