Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A "Wryly Beguiling" LANGUAGE ARCHIVE Opens Tomorrow at Heartland

It seems there has been a concerted effort to address the "female playwright" problem -- the fact that plays by women are much less likely to get produced than plays with male names on them  -- in Bloomington-Normal. As the Department of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University launches a fall season that includes work by Sarah Ruhl, Quiara Alegria Hudes and Lynn Nottage, New Route Theatre is holding auditions for a new performance piece by A. Oforiwaa Adruonum and Heartland Theatre opens its first of two plays written by women.

Julia Cho's The Language Archive is up first, opening tomorrow, and that will be followed by Falling by Deanna Jent, an Illinois Wesleyan University alum, in November. Last spring, Heartland's season-ender was Rona Munro's Iron and three of its ten-minute plays were written by woman.

It certainly gives BloNo theatre audiences a chance to see if they think work by women is demonstrably different from work by men or if women are just as individual, as theatrical and as successful on stage as anybody else. (Answers: Probably not and definitely yes.)

The Language Archive is a beautiful piece of writing, showing Cho's skill with weaving real emotion and real life with a little bit of magic and fantasy. It centers on George, a fairly hapless language archivist who has spent his professional life recording lost languages for posterity. If George can collect and preserve language, he cannot really communicate all that well with his fellow human beings, who include his wife, Mary, reduced to leaving cryptic notes in his pockets, his books and even his teacup in an effort to be heard; his lab assistant Emma, who harbors a major crush that he has failed to notice; and Alta and Resten, a couple newly arrived from a faraway land to put their own native tongue, an almost-obsolete language called Elloway, into the archive. Will Mary ever get through to George? Will Emma find the courage to tell him she loves him or to learn Esperanto? Can Alta and Resten stop fighting long enough to speak a few words of Elloway?

Resten (Mark de Veer, L) and Alta (Nancy Nickerson, R) experience a failure to communicate while George (Bruce E. Clark) looks on.
Cho winds all that together beautifully, along with visits from a man named Baker who is indeed a baker, a forceful language instructor who brooks no failures to communicate, and a strange gent who purports to be L. L. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, the universal language. Look for humor as well as sadness in The Language Archive as Cho looks at what it means to be human and to feel love even when the words don't come easily.

I don't know that there's anything essentially female about The Language Archive, but it certainly does find fertile ground in the idea that language is fragile, powerful and exasperating, especially when it comes to love.

If you want to know more about Julia Cho or The Language Archive, you might be interested in this interview or this piece about Cho, a review of the first production of Language Archive at South Coast Rep, or Chris Jones' Chicago Tribune review of the Piven Workshop production last February in Chicagoland.

The Language Archive opens tomorrow night at Heartland Theatre with a Pay What You Can Preview, followed by performances September 12 and 13; 18, 19, 20 and 21; and 25, 26, 27 and 28. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7:30 pm, while Sunday shows start at 2 pm. Note that a panel discussion follows the Sunday matinee on September 21 -- panelists include ISU professor Connie de Veer, who acted as dialect coach for The Language Archive; Susan Ryder, co-pastor at New Covenant Community who has a special interest in the Tower of Babel; and Hank Campbell from Friends Forever, a program devoted to bringing together children from cultures in conflict to promote friendship and understanding.

Click here to see the list of showtimes and here to see reservation information.

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