The brisk, if quirky, efficiency of the opening scene in “The Language Archive” promises an intelligent, slightly skewed comedy to follow. The fluidity with which linguist George (Matt Letscher) alternates between addressing the audience and addressing his wife, Mary (Heidi Schreck), in expressing his concerns about her sadness, sets an engaging tone that’s ripe with possibility. But Julia Cho’s latest, at the Laura Pels, loses its focus — and its wit —quicker than you can say Esperanto.
We soon meet Alta (Jayne Houdyshell) and Resten (John Horton), the last two known speakers of the dying language Elloway, speaking English in vaguely Eastern European accents and looking like they just stepped out of Central Casting. They speak English because it’s the “language of anger,” while Elloway is “too sacred for … angry talk.” Their burlesque battle, straight out of your favorite television sitcom, is rooted in Resten’s refusal to eat Alta’s cooking.
Mary leaves George, the linguist who can’t communicate, and opens a bakery. Resten is found to have an illness that made him lose his appetite. George’s assistant, Emma (Betty Gilpin), declares her love for him, but it’s unrequited. A play that begins with beguiling specificity seems more and more generic as it proceeds. Its flights of fancy, like Mary’s bakery, fall flat because they’re surrounded by stereotypes and platitudes. All the actors are on their game, and Neil Patel’s set dazzles, but this archive is short on content.
‘The Language Archive’
Laura Pels Theatre
111 W. 46th St.