[ON STAGE]Damned by the River of Loss

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[ON STAGE]Damned by the River of Loss

"My beloved, please do not cross the river. My beloved crosses the river after all. Now that you have drowned, what am I to do, my beloved?"

The famous Korean lyric poem and song from which the lines above are taken, "Kongmudohaga" dates from the Koryo Dynasty. It has been converted into a play by the theater group Yogi. The group, which specializes in plays based on historical themes, seeks in this work to link the sorrows of life in the ancient past with those in the present. In the legendary song, a frantic old man grasping a bottle of liquor sets off to cross the river as his blind wife strives to stop him. After the man drowns, the mournful song of 16 words is wailed by the despondent widow. Then she herself walks into the waters that swallowed up her husband.

The play begins set in the recent past, with a stage mimicking the first light of dawn in a nondescript village. A fisherman witnesses the story told by the song: a white-haired man dances into the lethal water and his wife soon follows. The fisherman rushes home to tell his wife what he saw. His wife, familiar with the couple, grieves their passing with a Korean traditional score spiced up with elements of modern music.

The story is then brought to the present day. The legendary river has disappeared due to the construction of a dam. Instead, the people have dug a well. Beside the well a bigoted old man is squabbling with his granddaughter Sun-wha about a frog. Sun-wha is mentally disturbed, for her mother, a shaman, also took her own life by sinking into the river. The man scolds the girl for tying the frog to her wrist with a string.

Building on the theme from "Kongmudohaga," this play is more than a story of grief. The river symbolizes the connection of the past to the present, whereas the well signifies the erosion of human affection and respect in contemporary society - that sentiments are drying up.

The image of Sun-wha with her frog dangling from her hands can be compared with the blind wife in the poem, who relied on her husband for guidance. "A frog in a well" is a Korean proverb used to describe a person who is brought up in a safe and secure place and is blind to the outside world.

This is just one of the aesthetic sentiments, including the resonance of a large fife, that you will experience throughout the play.

by Rhee Hyun-ju

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