Roundabout’s THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE begins previews Off-Broadway this Friday, September 24th with an official opening on Sunday, October 17th at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre.
The Village Voice
September 22, 2010
Julia Cho’s Tale of the Tongue
Out interview with The Language Archive playwright
Playwright Julia Cho took Spanish in high school, French in college, and “a little bit of German” during her two years as a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley. But while she grew up in a Korean-speaking household, she never learned that particular language. On the phone from Los Angeles, where she writes for the HBO series Big Love, Cho says, “It’s a huge source of regret and guilt that I don’t speak Korean.”
That guilt has inspired a new play, The Language Archive, which begins performances at the Roundabout on September 24, directed by Mark Brokaw. The script concerns George, a linguist struggling to preserve dead and dying languages. Cho had become intrigued by the fact that a world language dies every two weeks and began researching exactly why they disappear. Her lack of fluency in Korean “made the whole idea of languages going extinct stick with me,” she says. “That’s a lot of what went into the play, wanting to understand that aspect of my own life.”
Cho began her career as a playwright quite early. In the eighth grade, she wrote a piece about a group of people huddling in a fallout shelter after a nuclear attack. Her drama teacher staged it. “I had no idea how to write a play,” stresses Cho, in self-deprecating fashion. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, my God, she’s so talented—she’s clearly a playwright.’ It was like, ‘That wasn’t very good, maybe you shouldn’t do that again.’ ” And she didn’t—not until 1997, in her final year at Amherst, when she took a seminar with Constance Congdon. After she left Berkeley, she completed an MFA in dramatic writing at NYU, and a stint at Juilliard followed. Plays such as The Architecture of Loss, The Piano Teacher, and Durango have received productions at New York Theatre Workshop, the Vineyard, and the Public.
Cho’s plays typically discuss very terrible events (genocide, murder, sexual assault), but in a gentle—even genteel—fashion. They’re delicate and dangerous, and it’s only in retrospect that you realize just how devastating they are. Though largely a comedy, The Language Archive includes a divorce, a fatal illness, and, if you hold with the beliefs of its protagonist, numerous deaths: George registers each vanished language as a distinct and personal loss. “It is the death of the imagination, of memory,” he says. “It makes me much sadder than I could ever possibly express. Even with all my languages, there still aren’t the right words.”
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