Linguistics seem to be the hot topic of the week in New Paltz, what with Noam Chomsky packing the Lecture Center on the SUNY campus to the rafters last Sunday, and now the Mohonk Mountain Stage (MMS) Readers’ Theater Group performing a dramedy about a linguist who can’t sleep at night for fretting over the fact that somewhere in the world, a language dies every other week. The Language Archive will be staged at Unison Arts & Learning Center on Friday and Saturday, December 9 and 10 at 8 p.m.
The Language Archive was authored by Julia Cho, probably best-known as a TV writer, most recently for the HBO series Big Love. Other plays of hers that have gotten produced in reputable venues include The Architecture of Loss, The Piano Teacher and Durango. But it was The Language Archive that earned her the 2010 Susan Blackburn Prize, a fairly prestigious award endowed by a Smith College alumnus to recognize outstanding women playwrights writing in English. Past winners have included such illustrious names as Marsha Norman, Wendy Wasserstein and (multiple times) Caryl Churchill.
Here’s the plot: George is a brilliant linguist whose life’s work is capturing the world’s vanishing languages. Speaking of vanishing, George’s wife is headed out the door because he can’t find the right words to express himself. At work, George’s assistant is mute with adoration for him. Enter the last two speakers of the Ellowan language: the long-married Alta and Resten, a funny and fractious truth-talking couple. This tale, loaded with life’s contradictions, explores the force and failings of words.
Cho has been quoted to the effect that her motivation for writing the play had to do with the fact that, although her parents were immigrants to the US from Korea, she herself did not take the opportunity to learn the Korean language from them in childhood (although she did take a smattering of French, Spanish and German in school). This left her with a burden of guilt that she tried to expiate by writing a play about the fragility of certain ways of communicating.
The MMS production of The Language Archive will be directed by Christine Crawfis and star Jeffrey Battersby, Rich Hack, Zsuzsa Manna, Janet Nurre, Cate Olson, Molly Parker-Myers and Douglas Woolley.
Ticket prices are $14 at the door for Unison members, $18 for non-members; save $2 when you purchase tickets in advance by calling (845) 255-1559. Unison is a not-for-profit multi-arts center located at 68 Mountain Rest Road in New Paltz, about a mile west of the Wallkill River crossing heading towards Mohonk.