Contemporary plays examine Korean diaspora

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jun 4, 2017 - 13:53
  • Updated : Jun 5, 2017 - 17:45
Five plays written by playwrights of Korean descent will be staged at the National Theater Company of Korea in June and July, contemplating on the identity, family and other issues related to Korean diaspora.

Korean Diaspora Session, which opened last Thursday and will continue until July 23, sets the focus on those who often feel alienated.

“We were curious as to how the Korean diaspora is retaining their identity as Koreans, or how they are relinquishing it, and how they are changing. I felt that we could approach these issues in the wider topic of Korea’s identity,” said NTCK’s artistic director Kim Yun-cheol during a press conference on Friday, explaining how the company came to stage the project. “The goal (of the project) was to look at their (diaspora’s) concept and understanding and crisis of identity, and ponder on our (Koreans’) as well.”

Kicking off the session is “Song of the Dragons Flying to Heaven” by Young Jean Lee and “This Isn’t Romance,” by In-sook Chappell. 

Promotional image of “This Isn’t Romance.” (National Theater Company of Korea)
Promotional image of “This Isn’t Romance.” (National Theater Company of Korea)

Chappell, a London-based playwright who was adopted by a British family in her youth, was originally an actor but the limitations of being of Asian descent thwarted her from pursuing her career further.

In 2001, Chappell visited Korea on a government project. But while she sought to finally feel like she belonged, the experience only made her “feel very British.”

The visit inspired her to write the play, which she said was written in rage and pain.

The story is about a young woman named Miso, adopted by a British family at age eight. She returns to Korea after 25 years to find her brother Hansom, whom she abandoned upon being adopted.

Their meeting backfires in an unexpected turn as the siblings find that the only ones that can fill their emotional void is each other.

“It’s extreme, but I don’t think we should underestimate the trauma that adoptees face. Some people cannot overcome the trauma,” she said.

Chappell explained while Miso’s story is fiction, she did put a lot of herself in the central character and her brother.

“Korea is part of my identity, even it is a very confusing part,” Chappell said.

She added that she wanted her story to be more than a message, that she wanted it to entertain and emotionally engage people. “Although ‘This Isn’t Romance’ is quite dark, it is very funny in some moments. If you’re going to make people cry, you should also make people laugh,” she said.

“This Isn’t Romance” runs from June 2 to June 18, at 8 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 9:30 p.m. on Friday, and 6 p.m. on weekends.

“Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven” by Young Jean Lee” -- dubbed “hysterically funny” by the New York Times -- deals with the sensitive issue of discrimination and minority rage in a provocative fashion. Caucasians, Asians, everyone is bigoted in a piece that perfected its goal of “making the audience uncomfortable” and realize their own bigotry.

The play is staged from June 1 to June 11, 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and 3:00 p.m. on weekends. There are no shows on Tuesdays.

From June 22 to July 2, Julia Cho’s “Aubergine” takes to the stage.

A drama about a Korean-American son and his father, who is on his deathbed, “Aubergine” mixes humor and emotions.

The show is on at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. on weekends.

A Q&A session with the director and the actors will take place after the June 24 performance.

Mia Chung’s “You For me For You” depicts the story of North Korean defectors. One sister manages to escape the reclusive state, while the other fails and falls into a well.

Chung, who learned of North Korea through media, deliberately opts not to depict the country in a realistic fashion. This allows the audience members to focus on the psychological aspect of the characters, as the startling tail blurs the line between reality and fantasy.

The play runs from June 30 to July 16 at 8 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on weekends. There is no show on Tuesdays. On July 8 and July 9, the play will be staged at 3 p.m.

A Q&A session with the director and the actors will take place after the July 1 performance.

Another actor-turned-playwright Ins Choi will present “Kim’s Convenience,” critically acclaimed in Canada. The comedic work by Choi depicts the conflict and reconciliation within a migrant family through humor, touching on the issue that expands beyond the Korean diaspora.

The show is on at 7 p.m. on weekdays, and will not be staged on Tuesdays. It will be on at 3 p.m. on weekends.

A Q&A session with the director and the actors will take place after the July 22 performance.

Throughout the session, there will also be exhibitions on Korean art, and a food truck will be set up on weekends prior to the performances.

For tickets, contact 1644-2003 or visit Tickets for each play are priced at 30,000 won ($26.70), and a package deal for all the plays costs 88,000 won. A package deal for “Song of the Dragons Flying to Heaven” and “This Isn’t Romance” this Friday costs 39,000 won. 

By Yoon Min-sik