LOVE SEEKS THE RIGHT WORDS IN "THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE"
From left, Gabriel Nagy, Leslie J. Miller and Seonaid Barngrover search for connection.
Who among us hasn't discovered that swearing in another language just isn't very satisfying? Swearing only feels deep down good when it is done in your native tongue.
This direct connection between words and feelings is at the heart of “The Language Archive,” receiving a graceful production by Susan Arnold, director, and the Winding Road Theatre Ensemble.
Written by Julia Cho (“Durango,” “The Piano Teacher”) in the urban fantasy spirit of Sarah Ruhl (“The Clean House”), no one in “The Language Archive” can use words or feelings to express anything directly.
Hapless Mary (Leslie J. Miller), married to academic linguist George (Gabriel Nagy), leaves little notes around for George to find. Even the notes are written indirectly, poetically, never in a threatening way.
George, who has always been more at home in his thoughts than in any conversation with an actual person, doesn't know what to think about Mary. The idea that she might want to leave him never occurs to George – until she just walks out. Later on it occurs to him that he hasn't seen her around for awhile.
George's expertise is the study of rare and lost languages dying in the backwaters of various cultures. He takes the work personally, feeling genuine sadness knowing each of these once-loved symbol systems will never convey anything to anyone ever again.
All of this gets introduced fairly quickly before we get too bogged down. Then George is off to his language lab, conferring professionally with his young associate Emma (Seonaid Barngrover) over an elderly couple they are studying, Resten (Roger Owen) and Alta (Peg Peterson).
Dressed like Eastern European refugees, they are the last two people on Earth who speak Elloway. But in the lab they argue incessantly with each other and only speak in heavily accented English. They also provide some entertaining comedy relief.
Ill tempered and uncooperative, Restin and Alga idealistically refuse to converse in Elloway. The lovely words of this language will be saved for only speaking lovely thoughts to each other.
The plot also provides a swirl of secondary issues offering other examples of failed communication, such as the dream of a day when everyone in the civilized world would spoke Esperanto. If only years ago more people had loved Esperanto enough to save it.
But the magic of “The Language Archive” is not in what it portrays but what it implies. Everything feels so subtly expressed. The actors use this approach to create connections that seem almost mystical.
To be sure, this is a ballad of yearning in a modern setting, exploring the kind of love we only read about in books. Maybe if we just knew different words to use, love wouldn't be so...elusive.
Sure, individual feelings can't be nourished without receiving words from someone else. But which dies first, the language or the feelings?
“The Language Archive” runs through March 26 in the Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave., then moves to Roadrunner Theater, 8892 E. Tanque Verde Road, to continue March 31-April 9.
All performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. All tickets are $25, with various discounts available. For details and reservations, windingroadtheater.org
"RING OF FIRE" WHERE SINGING DOES THE TALKING
From left, Brian Mathis, Allison Briner-Dardenne, Trenna Barnes, and Michael Monroe Goodman in "Ring of Fire."
There is lots of music in “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash” that Arizona Theatre Company has mounted at the downtown Temple of Music and Art.
So much music, in fact, that it takes two singers to carry the load of all those songs about broken heats, being poor, wondering what just happened to your life and asking the Lord Above for a helping hand.
Rest assured, this isn't one of those Broadway jukebox fanfares where you only get to hear snatches of all the hits, thereby saving tons of money on royalties.
In this show, it is the singing that does all the talking. There is a montage of tunes as a prelude to the beginning, but after that every selection receives the cast's full attention.
There is no plot and very little dialogue. No one takes the role of Johnny Cash. Instead, Brian Mathis and Michael Monroe Goodman perform the songs in general biological order beginning with Cash's youth farming with his family on a homestead in Arkansas in the 1930s and 1940s.
After the farm came military service and then the Grand Ole Opry, that first meeting June Carter backstage and then just a casual mention of substance abuse. Cash's affection for the solitary lives of all prisoners receives its own section of songs in Act Two, followed by his big romance with Carter, big commercial success and the “Later Years.”
Singing the June Carter parts and generally providing the female point of view are Trenna Barnes and Allison Briner-Dardenne.
The hard times of Cash's life are well known, but little of that makes it into this show. Looking back, it feels like there are about as many gospel-flavored songs as there are country favorites.
The program lists 32 titles, including “Folsom Prison Blues,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Jackson,” “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire.” Among the B-sides and personality pieces are “Five Feet High and Rising,” “If I Were A Carpenter,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and, just for fun, “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart.”
Sharing the stage to provide all the musical accompaniment are six musician/backup singers adding character roles and atmosphere. All in all it is a very tight musical ensemble that won over the audience and had them clapping along halfway through the first act in a joyful rendition of “Daddy Sang Bass (Mama Sang Tenor).”
Following ATC's huge success with “Fiddler on the Roof,” this even more tuneful dedication to the music of Johnny Cash makes this 50th anniversary season of the theater company the most musical of them all.
“Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash” plays through March 25 with performances at various times in the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $25-$78. For details and reservations, 622-2823, or visit arizonatheatre.org