The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] French plays charm Seoul

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 1, 2012 - 19:10

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After Emile Zola play ‘Therese Raquin,’ black comedy ‘God of Carnage’ takes stage

Following last month’s Korean adaptation of Emile Zola’s novel-based play “Therese Raquin,” another French play is on stage to charm Seoulites, this time a contemporary black comedy titled “God of Carnage.”

Based on Zola’s 1867 novel, the play “Therese Raquin” was shown in Korea for the second time last month. It tells the story of Therese, a young woman married to her sickly first cousin, who has an affair with her husband Camille’s friend. The novel was the basis of Park Chan-wook’s 2009 vampire film “Thirst.” 
Scenes from Korean adaptations of French plays, “Therese Raquin” (top) and “God of Carnage.” (Hwadong & Seensee Company) Scenes from Korean adaptations of French plays, “Therese Raquin” (top) and “God of Carnage.” (Hwadong & Seensee Company)

The novel’s Korean edition was re-published in 2009 after the movie’s release. Last month’s play was staged at the Performance Arts Center of Dungduk Women’s University in Seoul by production house “Hwadong,” which was founded in 1991 by alumni of Kyunggi High School’s drama club. “Hwadong” members who starred in the show included veteran actor Lee Guen-hee, TV actors Kim Sung-min and Yoo Tae-woong.

As the show’s artistic director Kim Mi-ye said, the play delved into the dark side of human nature and desire, portraying a torrid love affair which motivates a gruesome murder. Yoo Tae-woong, who starred as Laurent, Therese’s illicit love interest, gave an engrossing performance filled with horror and guilt.

Actress Chung A-mi, who played Therese’s aunt Madame Raquin, shone by the end of the play -- when she becomes completely paralyzed after suffering a stroke upon her son’s death. It’s both fascinating and almost suffocating to watch her trapped in her own body, not being able to do or say anything when she discovers the shocking truth behind Camille’s death.

The selfish woman, who had her orphaned niece Therese married to her sickly son only to benefit Camille and herself, ironically becomes the only moral character by the end of the play. The paralyzed woman’s watchful gaze is frightening and sorrowful throughout, and becomes one of the most haunting images of the tragedy.

Following Zola’s play is the Korean adaptation of celebrated French playwright Yasmina Reza’s contemporary black comedy, “God of Carnage.”

The show, which is being staged in Seoul for the second time at Seoul Arts Center, begins as two pairs of middle-class French parents meet to discuss why one couple’s child broke the front teeth of the other’s.

Both parties try to remain “civilized” and “well-mannered” in the beginning. The show comically portrays the couples’ pretentiousness and pompous middle-class behavior, as they try to converse about the conflict in Darfur and art exhibitions.

Yet the couples soon completely lose their middle-class sensibilities, as Annette, one of the two wives, suddenly vomits onstage. Her vomit spreads all over the personal items of Veronique (Lee Yeon-gyou), the other wife, including the coffee table and her precious art pamphlets.

After drinking alcohol, the quartet end up becoming extremely childish and physically attacking each other. Yet the two couples’ anger is not necessarily directed toward each other, but toward their own spouses. It’s especially cathartic to watch Annette’s arrogant lawyer husband Alain (Park Ji-il), who is always on his cell phone, get attacked by his out-of-control wife.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Seo Joo-hee, who stars as the vomiting-Annette. The award-winning actress, whose previous work includes Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Sophocles’ “Oedipus,” brings out a hilarious yet moving portrait of a middle-class housewife whose desire has been repressed.

Though dealing with French families, Korean viewers will recognize much of what goes on, as the characters bring out the cruelty and shallowness of human nature.

The film adaptation of the play, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster, opened in theaters in the U.S. last month.

“God of Carnage” runs through Feb. 12 at Seoul Arts Center. For tickets and information, call (02) 1544-1555.

By Claire Lee (