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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "The Language Archive" at Laura Pels Theatre
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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "The Language Archive" at Laura Pels Theatre

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Ask for Emma

Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director

The Language Archive

By Julia Cho
Directed by Mark Brokaw

Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/
Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46th Street
New York, NY
(Roundabout Laura Pels Theatre Website)

Betty Gilpin, John Horton, Jayne Houdyshell,
Matt Letscher, Heidi Schreck

Set Design: Neil Patel
Costume Design: Michael Krass
Lighting Design: Mark McCullough
Original Music & Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Production Stage Manager: William H. Lang
Dialect Coach: Ben Furey
Casting: Carrie Gardner, CSA
Production Manager: Aurora Productions
General Manager: Rachel E. Ayers
Director of Marketing & Sales Promotion: David B. Steffen
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Associate Artistic Director: Scott Ellis

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 19, 2010

The Language Archive, a new play by Julia Cho, is frustrating for a viewer who loves the nuance of languages and the mesmerizing effect of hearing them spoken naturally and proficiently. I kept waiting to be drawn in, but, for me, the star of this work was Neil Patel’s exquisitely fabricated set, a wall of books, objects, and cubicles that set the stage to dissect the structure of words and assemble them into phrases that spark feeling. The scholarly structure of Ms. Cho’s two-act play only came alive toward the final scenes, when the characters discovered and maximized their potential for self-expression. One of these characters is Matt Letscher as George, a longtime researcher of extinct and almost extinct languages, like Esperanto. He even teaches the audience a phrase, but it was instantly forgettable. It lacked the emotion it was meant to communicate.

George is married to Mary (Heidi Schreck), who waits endlessly for him to express the words of love. She hides tiny notes in his belongings, but they confuse, rather than inform him. George has another repressed admirer, his assistant, Emma (Betty Gilpin), who would love to whisk George out of his marriage or at least away from his audiotapes and books. Two additional actors add life to this frustrated trio, and they’re played superbly by Jayne Houdyshell and John Horton. Early in the play they arrive in folkloric, Eastern European costumes, to help George explore an almost lost language, but they are possessed with a love-hate relationship with each other that stalls George’s program. Their campy repartee is adorable and a welcome respite from the dryness of this play. Later on Ms. Houdyshell appears as an Esperanto specialist, who eloquently coaches Emma to win over George. John Horton also re-appears as a man at a train station, who serendipitously changes Mary’s fate. A gorgeous bakery emerges, and Mary finds solace in kneading dough. Mark Brokaw directs for the academic impact, rather than the visceral impact of language. Ms. Cho’s play, itself, is essentially academic, but it might be more effective on a small stage. At the Laura Pels, the import of words was elusive.

Kudos to Neil Patel, and kudos to Michael Krass, for the colorful costumes worn by the quarreling, but inseparable, couple.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at