“The Language Archive” Directed by Shana Bestock at Seattle Public Theater

In Julia Cho’s play, George, an eminent linguist, works tirelessly to preserve endangered languages before the last of the native speakers die off. Yet he’s mute when it comes to the most important relationship in his life. He hasn’t the words to express his emotions, and, as a result, loses his precious wife.

And what a wife she is! Candace Vance as wife, Mary, is lovely, lithe, and obviously desperate for communication about the things that matter most in life. George, who can talk about his passion for language study, can’t speak about passion in love. Then, when Mary leaves him and his longstanding assistant, the competent yet needy, Emma (Heather Persinger) finally reveals her love for him, he can’t hear what she’s saying and certainly has no sense of what she’s feeling.

George is a tough role to play, and though Mike Dooly makes a valiant effort, it’s hard to elicit great empathy for such a wooden character. The greatest emotion he shows is frustration. And that’s directed at two subjects of his studies. They are the last remaining speakers of what appears to be a European language, and they refuse, at first, to speak to one another in that language. Unlike George, they have passion galore. Played with gusto by Julie Jamieson and John Murray, they argue and fight, using English words as weapons. Then later, they cherish and adore each other, speaking words of endearment in their own language.

The role of language is at the core of this play that in many ways shines a light on contemporary society. Here we talk past each other, reduce our communication to tweets, and go through much of life plugged into headphones or other listening devices rather than in one-to-one conversation.

There’s plenty of humor here, especially when Jamieson and Murray are on stage. And the tragedy of miscommunication is well presented. Yet this quirky play is like an overstuffed closet. It needs to be weeded out, a perfect case of where less would have been more.

Through June 9, Seattle Public Theater, Bathhouse Theater on Green Lake, 7312 W. Green Lake Dr. N, Seattle, (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).

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