For a New Play and its Director, the Language Speaks for Itself

Communication is key — especially when people are speaking two different languages.
In fact, that is also the leading plotline of The Language Archive, which will be running until Feb. 14 at Bristol Riverside Theatre.
The whimsical comedy, written by Julia Cho, follows George, a linguist obsessed with preserving dying languages. But his latest attempt to save one is failing, because its two last speakers refuse to talk to each other.
He also struggles to communicate on his home turf with his family, friends and co-workers.
Adam Immerwahr, director of the play, said this story delves into what happens when we try to communicate our feelings about love and relationships, and “the magic of trying to communicate how you really feel for someone is so seemingly impossible, yet it happens every day.”
The mystery and beauty of communication, he said, is what drew him to the play, which moved his heart and compelled him to fall in love with it years ago.
One of the elements that drew Immerwahr to the play was that it brought to mind how Jewish culture parallels many others in terms of assimilation and the loss of language and culture as a result.
“I think about my great-grandparents who spoke Yiddish,” Immerwahr explained. “And yet I speak no Yiddish, [my mother] doesn’t speak Yiddish … that language was lost. They assimilated and let go of that.
“One of the ideas of the play is that a language is more than just a language: It’s a world, it’s a culture, it’s a way of life, of thinking. This feels to me so important when you think about the love of Ladino, the Sephardic Jewish-Spanish hybrid language, of which there are frighteningly few living speakers at the moment… but what happens when that’s gone? What kind of heritage is lost? What kinds of worlds are lost?”
Even Hebrew, he added, was a revival language, transforming from liturgical prose to one spoken in everyday life, in turn rejuvenating the culture.
The characters are not Jewish, but some are identified as being from the “Old Country,” although just which one is left to the audience’s imagination.
“We can imagine” the Old Country “might be ours, it might be somewhere else,” he continued. “It’s not specified in the play — we can each imagine if that were my great-grandparents, my great-great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents.”
Immerwahr added that the play is written with a strong sense of authenticity that gives it a universal reach and appeal.
“I hope [audiences] will think about language in their lives,” he said. “I hope they’ll think about their own connections with others. Once they see it, I think they’re never going to forget it.”
Immerwahr also began working as the artistic director of Theatre J at the beginning of December. Theatre J, located in Washington, D.C., is one of the largest Jewish theaters in the country.
“I’ve always felt very connected with my Jewish identity, though I have not been working in a culturally specific organization prior to this,” he noted, adding that there is still a rich world of Jewish theatrical heritage.
In addition to his new role, he continues to work on other projects. Currently, he is picking the plays for next year’s season.
He also works with a group of retired residents in Mercer County who perform the stories of the community through Community Without Walls Onstage.
“It is so interesting and wonderful to think about programming within the context of a community center and what that means, and how we as a theater create community,” he said. “I think that coming at it from multiple angles — between me, the staff, the council — it’s going to create something really shimmering and really one of a kind.”
For The Language Archive or any other play, Immerwahr said, he uses his background and his Jewish heritage to help him direct, and to also help him understand and intuit what the characters are trying to express.
“All plays you access through your own particulars as well as through the universals of the play,” he said softly. “For me, when I think about some of the lines about language and losing a language and culture, I think about my great-grandparents. If they were alive, I would not be able to speak a word that they speak.
“When we achieve that expression and manage to connect with each other, it’s inescapably wonderful.”
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