[ON STAGE]The Funny, Sad Legacy of War

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[ON STAGE]The Funny, Sad Legacy of War

Successful productions often know how to play with an audience's emotions. It's the rare writer and director who can find a way to make theatergoers laugh and cry in the same play. "Kang Taek-ku" is one of those plays.

For the first 90 minutes, the show is drop-dead funny, with some lowbrow humor that only a viewer with strong Korean sensibility would be able to understand. Then for the remaining 20 minutes, the drama builds to an intense conclusion.

The play is set in a Russian labor camp. Three strangers, Kang Taek-ku, from North Korea, and two from the South, have been sent there after being falsely accused of murder. Mr. Kang came to Siberia as a logger to buy his mother a color television. In the prison, however, he finds out that Kang Doo-man, a young South Korean student who came to study in Russia, is his half brother. Their father retreated to the South during the Korean War, leaving his wife and eldest son, Kang Taek-ku in the north. Amidst the reunion, a South Korean reporter who is solely interested in dramatizing the situation into a sensational news story, shows up. Near the end of the play, the reporter finds an escape route and asks the two Kangs to come to South Korea with him. Kang Taek-ku refuses, explaining that he doesn't want to make his wife and daughter additional victims of family separation.

The discovery that the two Kangs are brothers does not come until the last half hour of the play, and so the two don't really get to explore their relationship. Instead, the play's focus is on all three men, as they slowly overcome ideological differences through games and events such as improvisational talent shows.

The history of the production is interesting. The playwright Jun Hoon says that he was inspired to create a work about a second generation war victim after living in Russia, a country in which he met many North Korean visitors.

"Kang Taek-ku" was first staged in a school auditorium at Russia's Shyepkin University, where Jun studied. Recently, North Korean refugees and members of separated families in South Korea have also been invited to attend this production, as living testament that the war is not just history, but that it continues to influence the everyday lives of contemporary Koreans.

For more information, contact 02-766-2124 (English available).

by Park Soo-mee

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