Hilarity, capable cast make for poignant show

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LEWISTON — With its swings from side-splitting comedy to moments of bittersweet understanding, “The Language Archive” is a sure-fire audience-pleaser at The Public Theatre.

The play’s New England premiere continues with performances Feb. 2-5.

Dawn McAndrews, who was recently appointed artistic director at The Theater at Monmouth, is director of this production. She succeeds in mixing hilarity and gentleness in appropriate measure, thanks to a capable cast.

Audiences will laugh heartily at the over-the-top verbal battles of an elderly couple who share a dying language, but refuse to speak it to each other. They argue in heavily accented English. After all, they say, English is the language of anger.

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It’s one of those plays that is best enjoyed by going with the flow. The ultimate message in “The Language Archive” is that most meaningful messages are found not in the spoken word but between the lines. When words fail, the language of love, in all of its mystifying forms, becomes the indispensable bridge to communication.

Andrea Gallo plays the tart-tongued Alta and Edward Furs is a boisterous Reston. They are delightful scene-stealers throughout the show. Their creation of the last people from Ellowan, a fictitious country with echoes of old Europe, is imaginative and right on target.

They also double as a few other key characters in the plot. Gallo’s portrayal of a quirky Esperanto teacher brings laughs with every word and movement.

Furs, who has been acting professionally for more than 30 years, makes his first appearance in a TPT production. Some of his recent TV work includes “Blue Bloods,” as well as all the “Law and Order” shows and “The Sopranos.”

Gallo appeared on the TPT stage several months ago in “Over the River and Through the Woods.”

George, portrayed by James Hoban, is a dedicated linguist who becomes totally tangled up in the inadequacies of verbal communication as his wife quietly announces she is leaving him. Furthermore, he must deal with the obstinance of Alta and Resten, who are the last custodians of Ellowan, their native tongue known for its songlike qualities.

Hoban’s performance as the confident scientist but flummoxed husband is very well done. He is well known to theater patrons of the Portland area. This is his first time on the TPT stage.

Janet Mitchko, TPT’s associate artistic director, has delighted the theater’s patrons in numerous productions. As Mary, George’s wife, she goes from a teary existence in the first act to a happily independent life in the second act when she discovers liberation in a totally unexpected way.

Tarah Flanagan is Emma, whose reserved admiration for George eventually finds voice.

Besides excellent direction by McAndrews and acting by the cast, Michael Reidy deserves credit for an imaginative and functional set design. The entire back wall and a side wall are filled with doors hung at different angles and levels. It’s an abstract look that also serves to access and identify spaces in the performance.

Remaining shows

WHAT: “The Language Archive”

WHO: The Public Theatre

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Feb. 2-3; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5

WHERE: 31 Maple St., Lewiston

TICKETS: $18/$5 for anyone 18 and younger

MORE INFO: Call 782-3200 or visit www.thepublictheatre.org

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