Experimental 'Island' Speaks in Many Tongues

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Experimental 'Island' Speaks in Many Tongues

"Island" ("Seom") is an experimental play sponsored in part by the Kim's Art Institute. It is a highly original work embodying numerous creative possibilities. Although the set is simple, the visual effect is more powerful than other theatrical performances because of the display of 16 television monitors at the back of the stage. These emanate different sounds, colors and shapes through the performance, enhancing the dramatic mood by reflecting the performers' narration. The blue screen with electric waves alternately turns red, suggesting a sense of urgency, and yellow when the actress hallucinates and gets ill.

"Island" opened at the National Theatre of Korea on Thursday. It presents three women, dressed in white mourning gowns, relating the story of their exile on an island. All three represent different aspects of one wronged woman's personality: the innocent, the angry and the hysterical woman. The first is desperate to prove her innocence while the other aspects of the one woman hallucinate the boat carrying seven ill-fated fishermen, crying out for help to her mother's disembodied presence in her mind. The narrative is not linear and must be pieced together by individual members of the audience.

Tracing a disturbing and poetic journey into the lives of those who are alienated from society, the play is performed by the three women in a series of monologues. The three actresses - Kim Sung-mi, Lee Jung-hwa and Lee Yun-sung - stand in a triangle on the stage and rotate positions through the play, indicating the primacy of speaker. By rejecting the conventional form of dialogue between the players and unfolding the narrative through soliloquies, the performance emphasizes the notion of isolation and distance between human beings. This tripartite representation also suggests the disconnection between the various roles that each person is required to fulfill by society.

"Island" is one of the few plays written and performed locally. Kim Sang-soo, the playwright and director, says he attempted to raise questions about "the failure of communication" in contemporary society. Also an installation artist and screenwriter for the film "Farewell My Darling" ("Haksaeng Bugun Sinwi"), a black comedy about the traditional Korean funeral ceremony, Kim has always stressed cinematic elements in his work. For this piece, he says he wanted to "integrate the senses" to give the audience "a holistic sensory feel" for the play.

A visual and aural feast, "Island" may be equally enjoyed by those who do not have much of an understanding of Korean. Through the use of color, sound and operatic gestures, language is relegated to a secondary position in the presentation of this exceptional work. It enables the viewers to experience the auteur's intense philosophy that "theater and theatricality are a way of life."

"Island" runs through Feb. 9. For questions regarding the performance, call (02) 2274-1172.

by Park Soo-mee

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