During the LA premiere of The Language Archive at East West Players, the scent of warm bread wafted through the theater. There’s nuance to smells, I’m told, a layering that is discernible to even the most indiscriminate noses. The same could be said of language and of theatrical plays that go beyond just the black and white categorization of “good” and “bad.”

As with my nose, there’s a certain level of layering that I’m oblivious and, like the bread smell, there was something comfortable and familiar with the The Language Archive. I spent the evening trying to figure out where I’ve seen this story before.

The story revolves around a linguist who seeks to preserve the world’s languages; however, he is incapable of communicating with those around him. Perhaps he is so immersed in the nuances of dead languages that he has a superficial knowledge of the vitality of communicating. He fails to notice how he has drained the life out of his wife and is just as oblivious to the exuberance of his assistant who is in love with him.

In psychology, there’s what’s known as “selective attention.” This is in full force with the language archivist. And while he spends so much time involved with the intricacies of languages, the overt categorizations of “good” and “bad” are lost on him. So much so that he is unable to let go when his wife has moved on to a better life — without him.

At times, I felt the EWP production just scratched the surface of what was available, much like the archivist does. Written by award winning playwright Julia Cho, the language wafts by in a pleasurable manner. With the plot, there’s something very Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about it. That is a good thing. The set up seemed familiar with the scientist saving something soon to be extinct and his subjects embroiled in a battle thereby endangering the archiving. The same goes for the love-stricken assistant subplot which housed roles made for Matthew Modine and Amy Adams. Again, not a bad thing. Familiar is something soothing, and it is that familiarity that is a conduit for more deeper constructs.

While it was quite jarring for Cho to switch character focus in the second act away from the scientist to the assistant, the result did hammer in a notion of the immense spectrum of experiences that can be had, not just by one individual. It’s risky for Cho to alternate focus and the structure can cause people to miss the intent, but if audiences investigate what they have seen, the wholeness — much like home-baked bread — fills you in more ways than just in the stomach.

The construction of the language in the play is definitely complex, much like the metaphor of bread smells. With my meek understanding, I took away the message that selective attention can be dangerous. And that reactions arising out of that selectivity can be equally detrimental. There’s a wealth of variety in life, Cho seems to be saying, and that, again, is a good thing. Ferreting out what you don’t want to notice, well, that’s not so good.

The Language Archive runs through December 4, 2011 at the The David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso Street in Los Angeles.

– See more at: http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2011/11/language-many-language-archive-east-west-players#sthash.dc2bugSs.dpuf

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