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THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE
A play about the importance of words
Opens TheatreWorks 50th Anniversary Season
By Iride Aparicio

Photo Credit: Alessandra Mello

l-To-R) JOMAR TAGATAC ( George) and ELENA WRIGHT (Mary)
l-To-R) JOMAR TAGATAC ( George) and ELENA WRIGHT (Mary)

PALO ALTO, CA -- Since the night of June 9th, when  founding artistic director at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, ROBERT KELLEY, accepted on the stage of  New York's Radio  City Music Hall  the Regional Theatre Tony Award, one of the highest honors a regional theater-maker can receive, on behalf of the company he founded in Palo Alto and has run since l970, his audience wanted an opportunity  to show him their appreciation for  the fifty years of  excellent performances that his theatre had given the city. The audience got the opportunity on Saturday, July 13, when on THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE's  press opening night when KELLEY entered Lucie Stern Theatre to welcomed the audience, everybody stood up in front of their seats and started applauding him. The expontaneous standing  ovation lasted a few minutes.

(l to r)Resten (Francis Jue) George (Jomar Tagatac)  Emma (Adrienne Kaori Walters) and Alta (Emily Kuroda)
(l to r)Resten (Francis Jue) George (Jomar Tagatac)  Emma (Adrienne Kaori Walters) and Alta (Emily Kuroda)

We will start our review of LANGUAGE ARCHIVE by describing its set:: shelves covering the back and both sides of the stage and as props, boxes, files, speakers, microphones, recorders and plates of different sizes, that change color. Designed by ANDREA BECHART, the set is a component of  the play because its props are a graphic representation of  the intangible subjects discussed in JULIA CHO's cerebral play: language, communication, and words. And words, spoken, misunderstood, or never said, are the subject in this play.

In an interview with Roundabout, the theatre company in New York City who Commissioned and originally produced THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE in that city, playwright CHO, discloses that her play was inspired by an article she read about the death of the last speaker of a dying language. That article made her aware of the fragility of  language, which could end suddenly, when the person who speaks it dies. With that idea in mind, CHO wrote a play about language, the beauty of language and how people use language to communicate with each other, but may not always use  the "correct" words, and by "correct" she means the words that  the listener expects to hear from the speaker. The play is THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE.

The principal characters in her play are George (JOMAR TAGATAC) and his wife Mary (ELENA WRIGHT)

JOMAR TAGATAC,George and ELENA WRIGHT, Mary
( JOMAR TAGATAC ) George and (ELENA WRIGHT) Mary

We met the couple at their home. Mary is crying and George, obviously concerned, is asking her the reason why, lately, she is crying at all times and writing him short notes that she leaves inside the pages of his books or all over the house. Mary accuses George of his lack of feeling. "You never cried," she says, "You did not even cried when your grandmother died. Don't you have anything to say?" she shouts. "She was an old woman, so she died." is his answer. "I am a linguist. I speak Esperanto, English, and French. There are 59,000 languages in the world and one spoken  language dies every day."

Realizing that his, is not the answer that Mary expected to hear, George tells her that when he first saw her he said to himself "There is a woman I could love," She remains silent, but talking to herself before walking away from him she says: "He can't believe I am going to die. Somebody else is going to die today, so I weep."

Seeing George at work in his lab, helped by his lab assistant Emma (ADRIENNE KAORI WALTERS), trying to record the about-to-die language, (not identified in the play) from an elderly couple: Alta (EMILY KURODA) and her husband Resten (FRANCIS JUE) the last two living people of an unidentified country  who still speak it,  is more funny than scientific. because before George's recording session starts, the couple starts fighting with each other speaking English. During their fight, Restel reminds his wife that he gave her his life. Her response is, "yes, but on a bus, you always took the window."  

And apparently, unable to survive in George's house, depressed Mary leaves George and  meets Mr. Baker (JUE) that was about to commit suicide. But saving his life, and working, gives her a reason for living and makes her happy. On his part, non-feeling George is feeling miserable. Seeing him so low may now encourage Emma (KAORI WALTERS) his assistant to reveal to him that she loves him. Her love is silent, but so true that the girl is even learning Esperanto (George's favorite language) in a private class.

Esperanto is a language created in l887 by L.L. Zamenhof, a Polish Jewish ophthalmologist from Biakystok, part of Russian Empire, but not part of Poland. Esperanto was originally called International Language, (Linguo Internacia) because it was created with the  purpose  to allow all the people in the world to speak one single language so that all the nations would be united in a common brotherhood. Its early speakers, however, changed the name to Esperanto, which may be translated to mean "waiting," or "waiting for something to happen"

(L-to-R) L.L. Zemenhof (JUE) and Emma (ADRIENNE KAORI WALTERS)
(L-to-R) L.L. Zemenhof (JUE) and Emma (ADRIENNE KAORI WALTERS)

And because she is   "wanting for something," , Emma decides to follow her teacher (EMILY KURODA) advice to reveal her feelings to George. Her encounter with Mr. L. L. Zemenhof, (the inventor of  Esperanto) on a train, who being an ophthalmologist, gives her an eye examination and  encourages her to open her eyes, shows her hopelessness of  her situation. Here we should add that the  encounter with Zemenhof probably happened  "in her mind " because  Zemenhof died in l917.

Directed by Director JEFFREY LO, all the play's characters conveyed their roles efficiently in their acting and dialogues. This is important in a play like this, which  relays in the acting and a few words of dialogue, to know the characters. And as we tried, CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL tried to determine, also, the reason, not clear in the play, why Mary (WRIGHT) left Geroge  (TAGATAC).  

Mary blames George for their break-up. She acusses him of not being able to communicate, which is paradoxical since he is a linguist who speaks several languages. And according to her, George is also incapable to feel emotion. 

But George feels emotion. He showed to us when he was working and he was so kind and understanding with Resten and Alta when he was trying to record them. George also cares a lot about languages and has been  trying to keep dying languages from dying. And if George was able to inspire such a deep love from Emma, his assistant, who spends hours every day working with him, the man most have something lovable in his character.

We saw that when they were still together, George tried to talk with Mary. But she usually walked away. And now, after she finally left him he is devastated and his pain is shown clearly to the audience  when he is hugged by Emma, which is a high point in the play because for Emma, the embrace is ecstasy. The first time, and probably the last, that she is held in the man she loves arms. To George, the embrace means comfort.

(Front) George (TAGATAC) embraces Emma (KAORI WALTERS)
(Front) George (TAGATAC) embraces Emma (KAORI WALTERS)

So, and based in what the play showed us about the characters, let us analize Mary. When we first meet her, she lacked motivation. It was not clear to the audience the reason why she left George not even knowing where she is going to go. And Mary, not George, is the one who is unable to communicate her feelings. That is the reason why she cries, like babies do, for lack of words to express what they want, and why living in the same house, she writes George notes all the time, which is odd.  Mary is also the one  who walked away. The depressed wife who rapidly moves with a man who she just met and was so depressed himself that he was about to commit suicide. So, who caused this marriage to brake up? The play presents us all the facts and the necessary dialogue. Those wanting to find out, will need to analyze them.


"THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE" is a very interesting play. Funny and entertaining. It is also a play with a message: We should be VERY careful when selecting our words when trying to communicate our feelings to another person.  

"THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE" WILL RUN UNTIL AUGUST 4 at the Lucie Stern Theater , 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo alto. For information or to order tickets call (650) 463-1960 or go online to theatreworks.org.