Clague Playhouse’s ‘The Language Archive’ is at a loss for words
Perhaps it is just me. You find yourself at a Sunday matinee at a local community theater. It is an unknown work that you have been looking forward to seeing because of its unique title and the scant information on the web. The cast is made up of local actors whom you have enjoyed in other productions over the years. During the nearly two hour show you find yourself drawn into the intriguing plot that seems destined to end up with a “feel good” happy ending. You find yourself falling in love with the various quirky characters who inhabit this world of make believe.
Alas, the playwright has other ideas as the presentation suddenly fizzles at the finale and you are left wondering if your two hour investment of time was worth it as the show leaves you in a depressed stage of mind. These were my thoughts at the conclusion of Julia Cho’s “The Language Archive” now on stage at Clague Playhouse.
George (Doug Sutherland) is a linguistic expert who has spent his career as head of The Language Archive. He is married to Mary (Maggie Rhodes) who spends her days at home perfecting her bread making skills. She also leaves cryptic notes for her husband as bookmarks and tea bag labels. George has an assistant, Emma (Nicole Coury) who has been secretly in love with her boss ever since she joined the Archive.
Enter Alta (Anne McEvoy) and Resten (Richard Worswick), an elderly couple who are the sole surviving speakers of an ancient language, “Elloway”. They have been flown in from their country in order to share their knowledge of this nearly extinct language so that George and Emma can record and save it for posterity.
It soon becomes evident that the octogenarian couple are in a constant state of bickering. They fight in profane laced English because “that is the language of anger” and since they are always in a state of agitation they seldom use their native tongue to communicate. Most of their arguing stems from Alta’s cooking and Resten’s reluctance to eat what she has prepared.
As they argue, Resten suddenly has a medical crisis and ends up in the hospital in a coma. Alta is there by his side when George comes to visit. The woman is beside herself with grief at the thought of losing her husband. She laments about all of the wasted time arguing and that the bringing up the name of a former beau was just to make Resten jealous as she had only dated the other man in order to catch Resten during their courtship. Resten suddenly springs awake having heard her confession in one of the most delightful scenes of the play.
At the same time, Mary has decided that she has had enough. She finds that although George is a brilliant linguist, his skills in communicating affection are severely retarded. Mary has had enough and decides to leave her husband to strike out on her own. George is gobsmacked and thrown into a tailspin as he tries to sort out where he went wrong over a bottle of Scotch whiskey. Mary, meanwhile, meets a stranger at the train station who is a dissatisfied baker who has locked up his shop for the last time and taken his priceless dough “Starter” with him that has been in his family for generations. Mary begs the man to give her the starter and the keys to the shop which he does before setting off on a world journey.
Meanwhile, Emma is being tutored by a well to do woman (Anne McEvoy) who is an expert in the universal language of Esperanto. Emma is attempting to learn various phrases of endearment just in case the situation with George ever arrives.
The cast is absolutely superb. Doug Sutherland as George plays the romantically clueless man to the hilt. Maggie Rhodes as the disenchanted Mary is equally up to the task. While you wish she would stay, you understand the reason for her leaving. Anne McEvoy and Richard Worswick as the bickering couple are the comic relief throughout the work. Nicole Coury as Emma of the unrequited love is bright eyed and hopeful in the face of insurmountable odds. Where the problem lies is when this bright and colorful story suddenly fades to monochrome at the end. It is almost as if the playwright grew weary of the whole affair and went for the fastest ending available.
The set design by Ron Newell seems rather knocked together and primitive by comparison to past Clague offerings but there are some rather clever set-ups during the play, in particular the bakery shop. Lance Switzer’s lighting design is well suited and helps to focus the audience attention. Lisa L. Wiley does a superb job with the sound design offering up several back ground sounds to set the mood and add a sense of realism. Dred Geib (along with Gig Nordgren and Margy Haas) have managed to unearth a variety of antique recording and filming devices that sprinkle the set. Lastly, Jenniver Sparano’s costume design gives the various characters a feeling of authenticity. The show is directed by Craig Joseph.
As you comfortably settle in to what appears to be a comic romantic yarn you discover too late that the rug is being yanked out from under you. Some people may like this type of abrupt theater. I for one did not find it to my liking. Purchase a ticket, see the show and form your own opinion. Word.
The Clague Playhouse production of “The Language Archive” will be on stage at 1171 Clague Road, Westlake, Ohio through February 11, 2024. For more information and to order tickets go to www.clagueplayhoue.org or call (440) 331-0403.