[ON STAGE]Comic Glimpse of Old Korea

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[ON STAGE]Comic Glimpse of Old Korea

"We tried to explore the more amusing aspects of the shamanistic beliefs still engraved on the minds of many Koreans," said Baek Young-chun, who dramatized a new, updated version of the old Korean folk musical "Jangdaejang Taryong."

The musical begins as the cast argues over who will take which role in the tale of Jang Dae-jang (his given name, Dae-jang, also translates as "commander"), born to a yangban, or aristocratic, family during the Choson Dynasty.

In the play, Jang Dae-jang, a mollycoddled only son, is suddenly plunged into the harsh real world when his parents die young. However, with good fortune he secures a seat as the head of a local government and starts the journey to his rural post.

On his way, Jang passes a marketplace in a small village. The scene depicts the liveliness of traditional Korean life of the middle and lower classes, with the clacking sound of the scissors of the taffy vendors and the cries of the fishmongers. An incident where Jang Dae-jang, newly fascinated by women, makes a fool out of himself by stealing a look at the shapely buttocks of a rice cake merchant, is just one of many comic moments.

He comes across a gut, a shaman ceremony, and falls in love with the mudang, or female shaman.

"One of the best scenes is when Jang Dae-jang and the mudang form a spiritual bond through a love ballad; they dance and sing back and forth, just like a gut is performed," said Choi Young-sook, one of the last students of the famed traditional Korean folk performer, Jade Ahn. In this play, she takes the role of the mudang. "This scene demonstrates the dynamic nature not typical of traditional Korean folk musicals."

The play builds to a chaotic climax as the lovers get their wires crossed and Huh Bongsa, a blind fortune-teller, tries to challenge Jang Dae-jang for the attentions of the mudang. However, the performance ends harmoniously as Jang Dae-jang calls upon a shaman power to reconcile the three classes the three main characters represent - upper class, lower class and, lowest of all, the shamans.

The Korean Traditional Artists' Institute is sponsoring the musical as part of efforts to preserve this tradition of storytelling. Headsets provide English speakers with instant translations of the action. Call 02-2274-3507/8 (English available).

by Rhee Hyun-ju

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