Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Language Archive—Portland Playhouse at CoHo—NW Portland

A Language For All Ages

This insightful play by Julie Cho is directed by Adriana Baer.  It is playing at the CoHo space, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (finding parking is a bear in this neighborhood, so please plan your time accordingly), through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

The above Language, of course, is Love.  But as to how to communicate in that verbage is the tricky part, as each feeling creature has its own interpretation of how to express him or herself.  What one may be feeling does not necessarily translate easily into words.  There is an Art to that.

George (Greg Watanabe) works with languages, trying to preserve what are considered the last remnants of cultures that may be dying out.  He may be a communication expert at this but is less successful when it comes to his home life and his wife, Mary (Nikki Weaver), who seems to be depressed and crying all the time.  She may also be leaving odd notes that seem to make no sense.  She is unlike rigid George, who supports the adage, everything in its proper place, and has no time for tears.  A match probably not made in Heaven.

But he does have a loyal assistant, Emma (Foss Curtis), who understands his drive, and is willing to comfort him and be his pal when needed.  May we also say that she is totally smitten by him.  But does he notice, of course not.  No hope, you say?  But wait, the home front may be breaking apart and some sunshine might filter through to those who suffer from unrequited love.

But, first to work, and then to…whatever.  They have the River People, Alta (Sharonlee Mclean) and Resten (Victor Mack), in their tests, products of one of those dying languages/civilizations, who are constantly arguing…but in English (!) which, of course, defeats the whole purpose of the experiment.  They explain, quite convincingly, that English is the language of strife, of war, and their language is for romance.  Of course, in this day and age, it seems that all languages are tinged with hatred now.

But, according to one famous poem, it may all be for naught.  An Emperor of yore had written across a monument, for all to view his fearsome glory he had created and yet, looking around the statue, was only an endless sea of sand!  Will we be like that, an empty cipher in someone’s book?  They proclaim in the play, it is not the language that dies off first, but the world for which it was created.  Will we eventually be those creatures, looking upon a barren landscape on the ruins of abandoned hopes and promises?!

To go further down the path of the story would be telling, so you just have to see it for yourself, to observe if a German instructor will put Emma on the road to happiness; whether an old man will inspire love again through baking; and will an odd couple be an inspiration for true love.  See a common theme in all of this?  Hope springs eternal, they say, and that Hope rests in our Youth.  May it be truly said that we have inspired them toward tolerance and compassion, away from being lemmings, and simply following others over the cliff into the abyss.

This play is thoughtful and inspirational on many fronts and Baer is exactly the right leader to nudge it forward.  Having been the driving force behind Profile Theatre, she has shown her artistic chops here in just as bold a way.  Her use of space and choice of cast is spot on.  I have reviewed all these actors before and they all came out shining examples of their Art, as they do here.  And they have the added burden of dealing with speaking other languages, too.  Mack and Mclean are both pros and it shows.  They have multiple roles in the show and their characters all come alive with only changes in their gestures, speech and postures, that’s great acting.  Curtis is just fine as the recognizable person who may not have loved wisely, but too well.  Weaver sheds light on the complex role of a woman trying to break out of her conventional role and find herself, her true calling.  And Watanabe is terrific as a martinet, discovering he is human after all.

I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.