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Five unusual dates on Thursdays

Bae Jong-ok and Jo Jae-hyun star in Korean theater adaptation of 1994 French novel

A young man and a woman become close, have a child, choose not to get married, and remain friends for many years. The ex-lovers are now in their 50s; they have been through almost everything together except marriage.

Acting veterans Jo Jae-hyun and Bae Jong-ok, who have mostly worked in TV and films, are co-starring in the theater adaptation of “Thursday Romance” this winter. The play is a local adaptation of French writer Marie Cardinal’s 1994 novel “Les Jeudis de Charles et Lula (Thursdays of Charles and Lula).”

Bae plays Yeon-ok, a retired war correspondent. She’s had an impoverished upbringing, and had to run away from her conservative parents to continue her education. She grows up to be an intelligent yet vulnerable young woman. After entering college, she gets involved in the student pro-democracy movement and starts writing for student papers.

While enthusiastic and fierce about pro-democracy activism, Yeon-ok does not quite understand who she is and what she really wants. She runs into a fellow student Jeong-min in the school library, who cares nothing about student activism and enjoys reading and watching baseball. Jeong-min, played by Jo Jae-hyun, is only interested in fulfilling self-interest, and is not ashamed to be that way. 
A scene from the play “Thursday Romance” (Seoul Arts Center)
A scene from the play “Thursday Romance” (Seoul Arts Center)

In spite of their apparent differences, however, the two were attracted to each other in the past. Their relationship involved both sex and friendship, neither of them wanting it to be too serious.

Now, some 30 years later, Jeong-min, who is now a respected scholar in history, suggests he and Yeon-ok have five “weekly discussion sessions” every Thursday ― talking about different themes each week. The themes include courage, history, death, the act of writing, and memories. The play starts on a cheerful and humorous tone, becoming increasingly serious and emotional as the two reveal the truths about their shared past.

But the play is not meant to be a tearjerker. Both Yeon-ok and Jeong-min are irresponsible individuals, mostly because they are afraid, not because they are selfish. When Yeon-ok first finds out she was pregnant with Jeong-min’s baby, she receives a letter from him that he is engaged to another woman. Afraid to find out how he’d react, Yeon-ok chooses not to tell him about the pregnancy and has the baby alone.

Once her daughter Yi-gyeong is born, however, Yeon-ok feels pressured and scared to take on the role of a mother. She tells Jeong-min about their daughter out of the blue, and goes off to dangerous war-torn zones to cover military conflicts overseas. Their daughter, Yi-gyeong, ends up being raised by her grandmother. Jeong-min, while aware of his daughter’s existence, rarely makes an effort to see her or take care of her.

In the present day, both Jeong-min and Yeon-ok find it difficult to approach their young, angry daughter. The fragile teen works at a small cafe and it’s obvious that she’s a high school drop-out. What Yi-gyeong criticizes her parents about and asks from them is logical and reasonable. This, ironically, makes the two grown-ups look immature, in spite of their successful careers and accumulated knowledge.

The play does not praise or criticize the system of marriage. Nor does it only explore the theme of love. Rather, it’s a tale of the growing up of two already grown-ups, who, in the end, learn to understand who they are and how to be honest with their wants and needs, and why it’s important to swallow fears and doubts and do what is hard.

“Thursday Romance” runs until Dec. 30 at Jayu Theater of Seoul Arts Center. Tickets range from 35,000 won to 50,000 won. For more information, call (02) 580-1300.

By Claire Lee (
Korea Herald daum