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[Herald Review] 'Bea' challenges perspectives on life, death

The play offers 'smart subtitle glasses' in English

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : March 8, 2024 - 19:55

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A scene from A scene from "Bea" (Creative Table Suk Young)

In a vibrant dress, Bea (a nickname for Beatrice) dances joyfully to Madonna's "Ray of Light" and then, addressing the recently arrived Ray, implores him to write a letter on her behalf. She says, "I want to die."

Ray and Bea's mother, Katherine, are taken aback, with Katherine painfully choosing to ignore the letter.

The scene is part of stage drama "Bea," which kicked off its run on Feb. 17 at the LG Art Center in Gangseo-gu, western Seoul. Contrary to the expectation set by Bea’s declaration, "Bea" begins on a bright and joyful note before delving into weighty questions, challenging the audience's perspectives on the right to choose death.

Written and directed by British playwright and director Mick Gordon, the play premiered at London's Soho Theatre in 2010 and was first staged in South Korea in 2016. The current run marks its third season, returning to the stage after five years.

The narrative centers around Bea, her mother Katherine, and Ray, her newly appointed caregiver. Filmmaker Bang Eun-jin makes a return to the stage after 23 years, playing the role of Katherine.

A scene from A scene from "Bea" (Creative Table Suk Young)

At the beginning of the play, Bea is an innocent, healthy girl, engaging in playful banter with Ray, throwing mischievous jokes at him, jumping and dancing to music. The desolate gray walls surrounding Bea, however, hint at her unspoken pain. In the colorless setting, Bea stands out in colorful costumes.

As the play unfolds, the audience comes to realize that Bea's on-stage persona does not mirror her reality. Struggling with chronic physical deterioration, Bea has been bedridden for eight years. All the dancing and lively conversations are mere manifestations of her imagination.

"There are things more painful than death sometimes," says Bea.

Initially bewildered, Ray comes to understand Bea's feelings. Katherine decides to experience Bea's life for a day. After lying in bed, unable to move, she respects Bea's decision.

A scene from A scene from "Bea" (Creative Table Suk Young)

Fourteen years after its premiere, what "Bea" tells us remains relevant. The recent headlines about former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt opting for euthanasia alongside his wife Eugenie in February underscore the ongoing relevance of the play's themes. In December, a terminally ill patient in Korea filed a constitutional petition for euthanasia.

"Bea" continues its run until March 24.

On March 10 and 16, audiences will be offered "smart subtitle glasses" that provide English subtitles through a combination of artificial intelligence and augmented reality technology.

The eyewear offers commentary and translations by synchronizing the subtitles with the actors' dialogues, according Creative Table Suk Young, the production company.