Over the past five years, the Taos Onstage community theater group has entertained Taos audiences with comedies, classic radio plays, holiday dinner theater extravaganzas and much more. Today (April 19), the group opens a two-week run of Julia Cho’s unique comedy, “The Language Archive," a play in which topics range from unspoken love to the seldom-spoken language of Esperanto.
Performances are planned Thursday through Saturday (April 19-21) and April 26-28 at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinées both weekends (April 22) and April 29, at 2 p.m. The venue will be the Kachina Lodge’s Hopi Dining Room, 413 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
The play centers on George (David Pérez), a man whose life’s passion is the preservation and documentation of dying languages from far-flung cultures. In his personal life, however, words fail him when he attempts to express his emotions to his wife, Mary (Renea Been) or his lab assistant, Emma (Mikala Martínez).
Enter married couple Alta and Resten (Jeff Spicer and Kristen Woolf), the last remaining native speakers of the fictional Ellowan culture, who have agreed to be interviewed and recorded for George’s research. Unfortunately, Alta and Resten are barely on speaking terms with each other. When they do speak, it’s in English, which they consider “the language of anger.”
Iconic Taos (and national) theater veteran Karla Eoff is directing. “The moment I read the play, I felt a connection,” Eoff said. “It seems like the more ways there are to communicate, the harder it has become to listen to one another — especially in intimate relationships. And the idea of languages becoming extinct has interested me for some time. Julia Cho has written a smart and funny play that touches the subjects of language, love, and extinction on many levels, as well as the stories we tell ourselves, which may only be true to us.
“There are three things that are necessary to direct a play,” she said. “A good script. A cast that is smart, dedicated and willing to take risks, to trust the director and each other, to push themselves every day, and to find new depth and meaning in their work. Perhaps most important, an assistant director who is smart, organized, and fierce. I’m a lucky director because I have all three.”
That stalwart assistant director is actor-writer Helen Rynaski.
“I think ‘The Language Archive’ is a very well-written and engaging play, so I was excited for the opportunity to be involved,” Rynaski said. “We have a wonderful cast! I know everyone says that, but we really do. All of the actors are talented, dedicated to the show and fun to be around. Karla is such a skilled director. This is a great learning opportunity for me. I look forward to each rehearsal. The subject matter of the play will appeal to a wide audience and, I think, spark interesting discussion. And, it’s really entertaining!”
“I instantly loved the role of Mary,” Renea Been said. “I think every woman can relate to her plight and the difficult but necessary choice she made to live her life more authentically — even if it meant having to leave everyone and everything she loved behind. Mary, I hope, will inspire you to make that leap into discovering your passion and creating time and space to do the one thing that makes you feel most alive in this world.”
Martínez described her character, Emma, as “sort of the hero of the play, if this play has a hero. She is a student of languages who has romantic feelings for her boss. There is an element of tragic heroism in her character that is both relatable and inspirational. I love this script. It is beautifully written and falls somewhere in the space between prose, poetry and fable. It has a large dose of whimsy and a touch of fantasy, which really appeals to me personally. Julia Cho’s down-to-earth writing style coupled with the just-outside-reality story line is very enjoyable both to read and to watch.”
Spicer has starred in numerous productions in Northern New Mexico. “I play several roles,” he said. “The main character is Resten, the Ellowan with a weak heart. His and his wife’s bickering ways help highlight the absurdity of relationships. Even though they’ve probably spent a lifetime bickering, they do truly love one another… which I’m sure a lot of people can relate to. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking and the performances are all top-notch.”
Woolf was born into a theatrical family and has performed all her life as an actor and an acclaimed opera singer. “I am always happiest when rehearsing or performing, so when I heard about the audition and found there was a possible part for me, I couldn’t not try out,” she said. “Alta and Resten have been married for many years, but are still very much alive to each other and rich in experience of life.”
“As an opera singer,” Woolf recalled, “I often sang languages I did not really speak. In ‘The Language Archive’ I speak English, American Southern, Pidgin English, Ellowan and Esperanto, each with its own accent. Very fun. The play is what I call juicy — food for thought, humor, love and grief — like life.”
Pérez, a local actor and author, stepped in at the last minute to take on the role of George.
Tickets are $15. For more information, call (575) 224-4587.