The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] ‘Kiss’ explores things lost in translation

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : April 25, 2023 - 19:28

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A scene from the play A scene from the play "Kiss" (Seoul Metropolitan Theatre)

With the click of a button, we easily access news from the other side of the world. We may even feel that we understand the horrors of war when we witness images of bombings, destruction and refugees on our screens.

However, can we truly comprehend the tragedy of war through mere fragments of videos and news reports?

“Kiss,” the Seoul Metropolitan Theatre's opening play for the 2023 season, introduces the rising Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderon to Korea. The play serves as an important wake-up call, shattering our presumption that we know everything.

The play, which premiered in Dusseldorf, Germany in 2014 and was met with critical acclaim worldwide, is best described with the word "twist," a term so ubiquitous that it features in almost every aspect of the work.

Regardless of one's expectations for a twist, the play remains remarkably unpredictable, perhaps for even the most imaginative of audience members.

The production team has made efforts to avoid spoilers, so this review will also refrain from revealing too much.

Of course, as the introduction of this review suggests, the play has a lot to do with war.

A scene from the play A scene from the play "Kiss" (Seoul Metropolitan Theatre)

There are two hints worth discussing, without delving too much into the details of the plot. First, there is the poster. The close-up of a woman’s face with the title “Kiss” doesn’t reveal much, but her watery eyes suggest an element of tragedy. The woman, Suncica Dumanovsky, is a Croatian actor based in Seoul who stars in the play.

The second hint is the setting of the play: Damascus, Syria, in 2014. The Middle-Eastern stage setting, the music and the characters’ names set an exotic tone for the first act.

The main characters are two couples: Ahmed and Hadeel, Youssif and Bana -- all of whom are close friends. They gather for a dinner one night that turns into an absurd, over-the-top soap opera. The plot involves unexpected confessions of love and an untimely marriage proposal, accompanied by a “kiss,” all taken to unbelievable limits resulting in a hilarious comedy. The cast wins plenty of laughs with their cartoonish and dramatic acting.

As the play unveils its twists and turns, it prompts us to reassess our previous understanding of the story. We come to realize what the “kiss” means, how a single line of dialogue can hold entirely different meanings for people from different cultures, and how we may have ignorantly misinterpreted them.

Director Woo, who also translated the script, said, "I was amazed by the fresh composition of the play and wanted to share (it) with a Korean audience. The play presents us with interesting discussions about how precious life is, and (shows us) perspectives on different cultural contexts and ways of creating and appreciating art."

“Kiss” runs at the Sejong S Theater until Sunday.