Once we have food, clothing, and shelter, one of our basic longings is to be understood. Julia Cho’s new play, now in season at the Piven Theatre Workshop, explores what happens when we quarrel with our spouses, retreat into sullen silence, or try to strike up a romantic relationship with a boss.
Five cast members present the struggle to communicate in various stages of life. Elderly immigrants use harsh words as slings and arrows; a young woman tries to learn a made-up language to express her deepest longings, and a middle-aged married couple can’t understand each other. We are good with academic terminology and basic words of the marketplace, but when we try to speak from the heart we get bogged down, we aren’t understood, we aren’t heard.
The old people yell at one another in heavily accented English that doesn’t mean a great deal because it’s not their native tongue, now almost extinct. A young woman who has given up the passion for her craft to live with an academic finds she can no longer speak to her linguist husband, so trapped in his archive of language that he can’t use words to express his feelings. Here in a sparse book-lined setting, we relive our human condition.
As we become caught in their web, we’re drawn into an artificially created language, Esperanto, developed from many known tongues. Its intent was to become a second language, to bring about universal communication. Esperanto, however, doesn’t provide the scope of emotion arising from the mystery of national cultures and traditions. So we continue to ask: how do we really understand what we hear?
Canon Buinis and Torrey Hanson lift the drama, doubling as several characters, including two with polished Slavic accents and slapstick comedy that keep us laughing. As veteran actors, Buinis and Hanson have skill that outshines the younger players. Abigail Boucher’s portrayal of Mary’s transition from despondent Hausfrau to buoyant baker is a stretch, but I must congratulate Cho the playwright on her knowledge about the use of sourdough starter. Emily Tate’s lab assistant Emma’s halo shines throughout; she’s just a little too good, while Paul Fagen’s pitiful George remains lackluster.
It’s good to see challenging drama in a theatre workshop. Thanks to Polly Noonan's able direction, The Language Archive is a play I keep thinking about, although I wish the author had found a better title. The Piven Theatre in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center at 927 Noyes Street in Evanston certainly deserves plenty of support. This show continues through March 23 with performances Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:30. When you go, bear in mind that parking is limited and the theatre space is perhaps a bit too warm.
Ticket and more information at the Piven Theatre website
Photos: Chris Zoubris