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Prague Fringe 2014

Lingua Varia

Susanne Kass (Finland)

Genre: Solo Show

Venue: Divadlo Kampa


Low Down

Lingua Varia explores just what it is like to exist in a world swimming in a variety of languages, and attempts to both celebrate, and capture that experience visually and extemporaneously.


Considering that more than half the audience was at least bilingual, and that this reviewer finished a Master’s degree in English Language studies, the promise and premise of this piece was nothing short of exciting.

Susanne Kass has the seeds of a great idea here, although she will need to team up with a few fresh minds and revisit her textual and staging decisions, in order to bring this piece back stronger.

Highlights to her piece: the extemporaneous conversations and interactions she had with the audience as she asked for their names, the audience by then on the edge of their seats, wondering what would be done with their appellations.  Playing the cello to their monikers was a nice touch.

By the time the objects came out, and viewers started feeling free to name them from their own mother tongues, the strawberry had become a thing of beauty.

How do you own a language, or own an object, if not to use the former to name the latter?

The multilingual audience ate it up, from keys to adapters and plugs, to, well, strawberries.

But something about Lingua Varia falls short of what it can be.  The possibilities for this piece are endless.  Kass will need to rework her production design and stage management.  Although that screen was a nice touch and useful for her projected images, a stronger visual connection with her and the audience would have helped, instead of having theatergoers struggle to see her. The fabric she uses for projections must be pulled taut, and loose objects left in disarray across the stage that are no longer needed must be cleaned up, or covered up.

It was almost academically titillating when she pulled out a couple of old, hardbound books to read aloud a passage on just how linguists described what “language” was. However, these are difficult, intellectual concepts, and this could have been a section of the performance that could have employed another actor to make the text come alive.

That she’d already begun by touching on several languages at the top of the show, teasing us with questions as to where language comes from, showcasing the varieties of tongues around the world: I was waiting for Kass to jump off the deep end, and really delve into these lingual entities.

I challenge her to continue developing this work.  What about collaborating with other language speakers, highlighting other ways of speaking more, creating a specific narrative out of it? There are many directions she can take this work, the choice is up to her.

To see this work again next year will be something to look forward to, after she allows the piece to undergo script development and restaging, thereby enriching the scintillating language questions she has brought forth.