“It’s Only Words…But Words are All We Have”: The ‘Language Archive’ Opens Tonight at Silver Spring Stage by Lennie Magida

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With so many words in the world, why do people so often have trouble finding the right ones to say to each other?

It’s what Joseph Coracle calls “the conundrum of language.” Coracle is director of a play that explores that conundrum from a number of perspectives: The Language Archive, which opens Tonight,  April 10th at Silver Spring Stage.

(L-R) Jonas David Grey(George), Lennie Magida (Alta), and Kevin Dykstra (Resten). Photo by Harvey Levine.
(L-R) Jonas David Grey (George), Lennie Magida (Alta), and Kevin Dykstra (Resten). Photo by Harvey Levine.

“Language is our attempt to define and translate the world around us,” says Coracle, “and yet the things we most desire to communicate are ineffable.”

In The Language Archive, several of playwright Julia Cho’s characters struggle with that problem – none more so than George, a linguist who runs the Language Archive of the title. In the archive, (played by Jonas David Grey) stewards the records of hundreds of languages that have died – extinctions that give George almost inexpressible pain.

Immersed though he is in language, George is unable to find the words to connect with his wife, Mary (Karen Fleming), who tells him early in the show that she’s leaving him. “George and Mary’s marriage falls apart because they speak different languages: his is intellectual, and hers is emotional,” says Fleming. Adds Coracle, “George, the master linguist, finds himself subject – as he says – to lethologica, the temporary inability to recall the right word.”

(L-R) Andrea Spitz (Instructor), and Juliana Ejedoghaobi (Emma). Photo by Harvey Levine. Photo credit Harvey Levine
(L-R) Andrea Spitz (Instructor), and Juliana Ejedoghaobi (Emma). Photo by Harvey Levine. Photo credit Harvey Levine

Back where he feels comfortable – The Language Archive – George and his assistant, Emma (Juliana Ejedoghaobi) are welcoming Resten (Kevin Dykstra) and Alta (played by yours truly). The last speakers of the fictional language of Elloway, they’ve come from their far-off village so George can capture their soon-to-be-gone language. Unlike some of the other characters, Alta and Resten – who add a lot of humor to The Language Archive – have no trouble communicating with each other. It’s just that sometimes they decide they’re not going to do it, much to George’s consternation.

There are plenty of other communication and self-expression issues in The Language Archive. There’s the matter of what Emma truly feels for George, and the question of what Mary is going to do now that she’s left her marriage. And there are people who offer guidance and wisdom: Alta and Resten; a mysterious and rather magical baker (Michael Sigler); L.L. Zamenhof, who invented the universal language of Esperanto (also Sigler); and Emma’s Esperanto instructor (Andrea Spitz).

 (L-R) Karen Fleming (Mary) and Michael Sigler. Photo by Harvey Levine. (Zamenhof/Baker)

(L-R) Karen Fleming (Mary) and Michael Sigler. (Zamenhof/Baker). Photo by Harvey Levine.

At the center of it all is that question: How can we humans have good lives and happy relationships when the right words so often elude us? The play’s message, says Coracle, is that “the only way out of this dilemma is to accept that there are things for which there are no words, and to try to listen for meaning in others’ words, rather than impose our own definitions on the conversation.”

The Language Archive probes some weighty questions, but Cho approaches them in a way that is clever, witty, sometimes dreamlike, yet still thought-provoking. Grey predicts that the Stage’s audiences will be struck by “how sweet this story is. And hopefully they will be much more inclined to say ‘I love you’ to the people in their lives.”

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The Language Archive plays weekends from April 10-May 2, 2015 at Silver Spring Stage-10145 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD, located in the Woodmoor Shopping Center. Purchase your tickets online, or at the box office beginning an hour before the performance.

Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., plus Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on April 19th and 26th. Regular ticket price is $20, but $10 tickets are available for select performances on Goldstar. There is also a Pay-What-You-Can preview on Thursday, April 9, at 8 p.m.

The opening night performance will be followed by a reception to which all audience members are invited.