By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
From left, Gabriel Nagy, Leslie J. Miller and Seonaid Barngrover search for connection.
Who among us hasn't discovered that swearing in another language just isn't very satisfying? Swearing only feels deep down good when it is done in your native tongue.
This direct connection between words and feelings is at the heart of “The Language Archive,” receiving a graceful production by Susan Arnold, director, and the Winding Road Theatre Ensemble.
Written by Julia Cho (“Durango,” “The Piano Teacher”) in the urban fantasy spirit of Sarah Ruhl (“The Clean House”), no one in “The Language Archive” can use words or feelings to express anything directly.
Hapless Mary (Leslie J. Miller), married to academic linguist George (Gabriel Nagy), leaves little notes around for George to find. Even the notes are written indirectly, poetically, never in a threatening way.
George, who has always been more at home in his thoughts than in any conversation with an actual person, doesn't know what to think about Mary. The idea that she might want to leave him never occurs to George – until she just walks out. Later on it occurs to him that he hasn't seen her around for awhile.
George's expertise is the study of rare and lost languages dying in the backwaters of various cultures. He takes the work personally, feeling genuine sadness knowing each of these once-loved symbol systems will never convey anything to anyone ever again.
All of this gets introduced fairly quickly before we get too bogged down. Then George is off to his language lab, conferring professionally with his young associate Emma (Seonaid Barngrover) over an elderly couple they are studying, Resten (Roger Owen) and Alta (Peg Peterson).
Dressed like Eastern European refugees, they are the last two people on Earth who speak Elloway. But in the lab they argue incessantly with each other and only speak in heavily accented English. They also provide some entertaining comedy relief.
Ill tempered and uncooperative, Restin and Alga idealistically refuse to converse in Elloway. The lovely words of this language will be saved for only speaking lovely thoughts to each other.
The plot also provides a swirl of secondary issues offering other examples of failed communication, such as the dream of a day when everyone in the civilized world would spoke Esperanto. If only years ago more people had loved Esperanto enough to save it.
But the magic of “The Language Archive” is not in what it portrays but what it implies. Everything feels so subtly expressed. The actors use this approach to create connections that seem almost mystical.
To be sure, this is a ballad of yearning in a modern setting, exploring the kind of love we only read about in books. Maybe if we just knew different words to use, love wouldn't be so...elusive.
Sure, individual feelings can't be nourished without receiving words from someone else. But which dies first, the language or the feelings?
“The Language Archive” runs through March 26 in the Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave., then moves to Roadrunner Theater, 8892 E. Tanque Verde Road, to continue March 31-April 9.
All performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. All tickets are $25, with various discounts available. For details and reservations, windingroadtheater.org