by John Glore
George, the central character in Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, is a man of many languages, but lately he’s had a communication problem. A linguist by trade, George knows how to say “I love you” in dozens of tongues, but he can’t seem to figure out how to say it effectively to his own wife, Mary. Somehow George has forgotten how to speak Mary’s language.
Which is part of the reason she has decided to leave him. Mary does give George one last chance to express his feelings for her before she walks out the door. Sadly, although his mind is overflowing with words of desperate longing, the best he can manage to say out loud is “…Don’t…Go…?”—and those two lonely syllables don’t add up to “I love you” as far as Mary is concerned.
Later George will learn that the way to say “I love you” in a near-dead language called Elloway is “Mir ni glessalla”—which literally means “Don’t leave me.” But since Mary isn’t Ellowan, George’s two-syllable plea fails to leap the gap between his heart and hers. So as the first scene comes to its miscommunicative end, Mary follows through on her intention … and George’s world begins to crumble.
Fortunately for George, losing Mary doesn’t leave him alone in the world. His devoted assistant Emma stays by his side, helping him with his work while nursing a secret ardor for the man who taught her to love language. As the two of them interview the last two living speakers of Elloway—an adorably cantankerous old couple named Alta and Resten—Emma wishes she could find a way to tell George how she feels about him. So she decides to learn how to speak Esperanto, the universal language of which George is a devotee, hoping that will somehow spark a connection.
Meanwhile, on her own for the first time in many years, Mary has set out to create a new life for herself, something that will give authentic expression to a yearning she can’t articulate. Quite by accident she meets a man—a baker named Baker—who holds the answer to her quest inside a mysterious little box. In short order Mary has found the perfect means to express herself to the world, to commune without words. And when Emma happens upon Mary in her new life, Julia Cho’s yeasty romantic tale begins to rise and spread in surprising ways.
Cho’s previous SCR world premiere, The Piano Teacher, was a dark mystery about humanity’s capacity for both beauty and cruelty. The Language Archive couldn’t be more different in story and tone, as it spins a sort of fable—buoyant and melancholy, funny and heart-breaking—about the deep human need to be understood. Language is an invention of human minds, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it doesn’t always serve the needs of the heart. But as George sees it, love is a language unto itself. And as Mary might add, it’s an active culture, like yeast, alive in the air around us, waiting to be captured by the right two hearts.
Speak the Speech
The Language Archive was introduced in last year’s Pacific Playwrights Festival, in a staged reading directed by Mark Brokaw. Brokaw, one of the leading directors in the American theatre, returns to stage SCR’s world premiere production, presented by special arrangement with New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company, which commissioned the play. Brokaw’s credits include productions on Broadway and Off-Broadway, and at some of the country’s finest regional theatres, including the Guthrie, Steppenwolf and Seattle Rep.
The role of George will be played by Leo Marks, whose last SCR production was Major Barbara, in which he played Bill Walker. Betsy Brandt (Ridiculous Fraud) will play his wife, Mary. Emma will be played by SCR newcomer, Laura Heisler, a New Yorker who was recently named by The Village Voice as one of six “singular sensations,” in an article about “actors who approach perfection [and] consistently demonstrate passion, vivacity, and innovation."
Two SCR favorites will round out the cast, with Linda Gehringer (Doubt, The Piano Teacher and many others) playing Alta and Tony Amendola (SCR’s The Heiress, and a familiar face from film and television) appearing as Resten. Both actors play multiple roles, popping up as a cab driver, a German teacher and assorted other characters who guide Mary, George and Emma toward their respective fates.
The History of Esperanto
by Kimberly Colburn
is an invented language, the brainchild of Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof.
Zamenhof, born in 1859, was not the first (or the last) to attempt to
construct a language to address the perceived failure of words in our
society, but unlike many others, Esperanto gained a foothold to
become a living language—with original literature, native speakers
(children taught Esperanto at birth), and a dedicated
Polish doctor L.L. Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto, poses in an undated picture. Photograph courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.
Zamenhof made several attempts at
forming a universal language. He first developed a lexicon of one-syllable words but found he would forget the meanings he assigned them.
He knew a universal language needed to be as easy as possible to learn
in order to gain widespread use. Eventually, he developed Esperanto, which relies on phonetic spelling and a system of
root words familiar to anyone with a working knowledge of Romance or
In 1887 Zamenhof gathered
together the resources to publish a pamphlet he titled Lingvo
internacia. Antaŭparolo kaj plena lernolibro (International
Language. Foreword And Complete Textbook). It was
published under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto
(Doctor Hopeful), from which the name of the language is
derived. His goal was to unify the world. He believed that if people
could overcome language barriers, they could live in harmony.
how he came to his beliefs, he explained: “I was educated to be an
idealist. I was taught that all men are brothers; and yet on the street
and in the marketplace everything caused me to feel ‘people’ did not
exist, that they were only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews, etc.” He
felt that a language that was neutral and didn’t belong to a particular
culture would put people on equal footing and promote understanding
Unlike the inventors of
other constructed languages such as Universalglot or Volopük,
Zamenhof didn’t seek control of development and wanted his language to
adapt through usage. He rejected motions for official overhaul and
allowed changes to happen organically as Esperanto spread.
idealistic philosophy behind Esperanto helped his language attract a
large following. The World Esperanto Congress first occurred in 1905
and has been happening annually since, with brief hiatuses during WWI
and WWII. Estimates of the number of Esperanto speakers today range
from 50,000 to two million, spread worldwide, with chapters of
the Universal Esperanto Association (UAE) in over 100 countries.
Speakers of Esperanto have developed a culture of openness and
tolerance, wherein they celebrate every native background through their
shared universal language. The UAE has a list of Esperanto speakers
through the world who have offered their homes to traveling
Esperanto speakers. The World Esperanto Congress is a colorful and
lively affair, with performances, music, and seminars of all
varieties—all in the uniting voice of Esperanto.
Zamenhof has an asteroid named after him.
birthday, December 15th, is celebrated as Esperanto Day. Last year,
Google honored his birthday with a Google doodle. Google also has a
portal for internet searching in Esperanto.
Political activist and Hungarian businessman George Soros
is one of the rare native speakers of Esperanto, having been taught the
language from birth, though he is no longer active in furthering the
cause of Esperanto.
Ker .“L.L. Zamenhof: Who He Was, Why He's on Google” National
Geographic Daily News, Dec 15, 2009.
Arika. In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock
Stars, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect
Language. Spiegel and Grau, 2009.
Eichholz, Rüdiger and Vilma Sindona, eds.
Esperanto in the Modern World. Esperanto Press,
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