Quirky and whimsical are words that have been used to describe Julia Cho’s play “The Language Archive.” Add cute and sweet, and you’re beginning to get an idea of what’s on stage at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.

Judging by Thursday’s performance, a cast of theater students, under the direction of faculty member Sara Valentine, are more than meeting the challenges of Cho’s unusual framing of questions about love and language and how you can’t have one without the other.

Linguistic researcher George is determined to preserve dying languages, even as his marriage founders on a lack of communication. His emotionally fragile wife, Mary, leaves him cryptic messages in an attempt to draw out of him words seemingly beyond his over-intellectualized reach. While he tries to secure documentation of a disappearing language from an elderly married couple who he’s flown in from afar, he also fails to recognize assistant Emma’s infatuation with him.

The form of the play is imaginative, with performers periodically addressing the audience and an ensemble of offbeat characters dropping in and out of the action through numerous scene changes. There are a couple of references to cartoons in the dialogue and, indeed, there is a sense that Cho’s message is being colorfully illustrated. But a thoughtful lyricism pulls the play back into a very human world, where grief and happiness may coexist.

Jake Hammond plays George with the appropriate mix of detached researcher and emotionally befuddled man. His scenes with Mariah Larocque, as Mary, rang true in representing two tragically frustrated people who know each other well, yet don’t fully connect.

Larocque keeps her pained Mary refreshingly open to some rather unexpected influences as she fashions a new life, while Hammond’s George gradually opens up just a bit.

Braden Socquet serves up Emma’s unselfish caring for George with a layer of poignancy for the fate of their relationship. Her scenes with Savannah Irish, as a language teacher and confidant, were among the funniest in the performance. Both brought an extra verve to their moments together.

JJ Jensen and Luis Del Valle also develop comedic momentum as the bickering couple who find English to be the “language of anger” and their own almost-extinct tongue to be the language of love.

Valentine and her staff delineate scenes through sound effects, lighting changes and rolling set pieces. A backdrop of stacked storage boxes suggests a long and hard search for the right words.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.