So I saw this show last night called The Language Archive at one of the Roundabout Theatres. It’s billed as a comedy, but for some reason I didn’t find it funny at all. That bothered me. In fact, I think it’s still bothering me. Or maybe it’s just that freakish Craftastrophe I found this morning.
The play itself was a wonderfully written piece by Julia Cho. In fact there were several lines of dialogue so beautiful I found it impossible to breathe. The set was lovely and intriguingly creative with its use of space. The cast, while not mind blowing, was more than competent. Yet for some reason, I walked out of that theater slightly annoyed, like the show had turned into a sharp-cornered tag on the inside of my favorite undershirt, scratching relentlessly against my skin but never quite painful enough to justify finding a pair of scissors to cut it out.
Melancholy. That’s how I felt when I walked out of that theater. And I’m not even sure why. I just know I don’t much care for melancholy.
As a lover of words myself, I found the basic premise captivating enough – a linguist intent on preserving disappearing languages i unable to find the words to tell his wife he loves her. Even Sylvia Plath could have seen the potential for comedic hijinks in such a setup. Yet with each passing scene I felt myself sinking further into my seat, wrapping my coat a little tighter around myself tighter.
After the wife leaves the husband, she finds herself at a train station, unsure of her next steps and destination. She meets an old man, equally bereft and confused. They begin talking and he confides that his plan is to throw himself in front of the next train. She convinces him to instead go deeper into his sadness, to metaphorically walk into an even darker place of sadness because, “Sometimes you can feel so sad, it begins to feel like happiness. And you can be so happy that it starts to feel like grief.”
Am I right? You’re doubled-over with laughter right now, aren’t you?
In this tender and beautifully written moment, the train blows by and the wife asks the old man, “Why didn’t you jump?”
He answers, “I don’t know. I still might tomorrow.”
Cue the laugh track.
There’s a sub story about an old couple, the last surviving speakers of a language said to be the most beautiful ever spoken. The linguist has flown them in from their homeland so that he can record a spoken conversation before they die and their language is lost forever. At one point, the linguist’s assistant asks the older woman how to say, “I love you,” in her language. She replies that there is no literal translation, instead they say, “Don’t leave me,” because that is what love means to them. “I do not want to be left by you.”
*slaps knee* Whew! I tell you these jokes would KILL at an open mic night.
Comedy or not, the play still has me thinking – which, I suppose, is the mark of a true piece of art, right? And so I sit here on this cloudy day wallowing in my big pile of melancholy. And as my brain churns, I can’t get this song out of my head. It reminds me of the play – so beautiful and earnest it becomes both sadness and joy at the same time.
Here’s the highfalutin NYTimes review if you’d like to know what a real critic thought of the show.
I’m sure I’ll have a bangin’ vagina joke by tomorrow. Then again, I hear they’re considering adding a vagina column at the Times, too. I made that last part up, FYI.