'Ogu' Exorcises Our Demons With Dramatic LicenseThe play "Ogu" blurs the lines between fiction and reality and addresses question of mortality using tragicomedic plotting and dialogue in a novel and effective way.
In a unique twist to conventional drama, the play begins before the audience enters the theater. As the audience is seated, the three main characters, Oh Dal-soo, his pregnant wife and daughter, are already on stage, talking casually and vaguely suggesting what the play is about. A few minutes later, Oh's elderly mother, played by veteran actress Kang Boo-ja, enters, bows and announces that the play will begin.
"Ogu," the Korean word for exorcism, is a play about death seen through the eyes of Koreans. It also talks about Korean life and funereal rituals － performed by the living and, perhaps, for the benefit of the living, as the play subtly suggests.
The play is divided into seven acts. The first four acts deal with events leading up to Oh's mother's death while the last three acts cover what happens during the three day mourning period.
Act 1 begins with the mother experiencing nightmares. She dreams every night that her dead husband and the grim reapers of Korean lore are possessing her spirit. Overwhelmed by fear, she begs her son to arrange for a popular shaman, Soek-chool, to perform an exorcism in the house. During the exorcism, the old woman dies.
Titled "A Realistic Drama," Act 4 focuses on the family in mourning, with the bereaved drinking heavily and playing cards － the Korean equivalent of an Irish wake.
In Act 6, "Drama of Illusion" and Act 7, "For the Living," the play deals with the notion that the living intermingle with the dead, and is executed in a thoroughly enjoyable and light-hearted way. Messengers from the world of the dead arrive to settle disputes about the mother's estate - and one messenger ends up having an affair with a widow. A midget who accompanies an older messengers chats with Bong-sook, Oh's young daughter, who wants to know about the world of the dead. Completing the circle of life, the play ends with the birth of Oh's son.
A notable feature of the production is how it uses space, going beyond the confines of the stage and into the aisles and hidden alcoves of the theater. Actors enter through doors located throughout the auditorium. When the old mother's spirit leaves the family's home, she walks down the center aisle through the audience and out the main door. It is a metaphor of life and death, and using the whole theater allows the audience to become more intimately involved with the characters and the drama itself, blurring the distinction between fiction and reality.
After 12 years, "Ogu" is still regarded as one of the finest works of Lee Yun-taek, Korea's most recognized theatrical director. And like most of his previous work, "Ogu" blends traditional and contemporary elements, such as mime, dance and the rich imagery of shamanistic rituals.
Laced with satire and playful deception, the play is, as the critics say, "a post-modern drama" in form and content. Frequent one-liners liven up the proceedings, while the mix of fantasy and reality adds metaphysical meaning that leaves the audience questioning whether a parallel existence is possible.
"Ogu" is playing at the Chongdong Theatre, near Toksu Palace, until Nov. 30. There are brief English explanations at the beginning of each act. For more information call 02-773-8960.
by Park Soo-mee