Outdoor theater readies to put on show of raw farce

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Outdoor theater readies to put on show of raw farce

If you're running out of cool things to do this summer, think about catching some classic comedy performed live at an outdoor theater with refreshing mountain breezes -- right in the city. The National Theater of Korea, located at Namsan Mountain in the center of Seoul, recently launched an open-air theater, and to celebrate, the local drama company Wagon Stage will present a festival of five farces there from Aug. 15 to Aug. 18, with shows in the afternoons and evenings. All the productions will be in Korean.

A farce is a light comedy with improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, witty exchanges, gags and slapstick elements. The national theater's Farce Festival will consist of the works "Pierre Pathelin," "Proposal," "Islamic Philosopher," "Islamic Mathematician," and the episodes of the comedia dell'arte.

"Pierre Pathelin," written by an unknown medieval French dramatist, is a classic of farce. It is about a lawyer who habitually swindles others but finally gets swindled by a client.

"Proposal," by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, is about the cycle of quarrels and reconciliation between a man and a woman before their marriage.

"Islamic Philosopher," by the Algerian dramatist Kateb Yacine, is a story of a philosopher who imparts wisdom to the poor and underprivileged through humorous and witty remarks.

"Islamic Mathematician," based on a book by the Brazilian novelist Julio Cesar de Mello e Souza, is a shadow play and tells stories related to mathematics.

While Wagon Stage has already presented those four plays, at the national theater it will perform for the first time the commedia dell'arte episodes, which use stock characters and improvisation and have their origins in 17th-century Italy. The attempt seems late, because the company was formed 10 years ago with the name Wagon Stage, chosen to relate to the commedia dell'arte, which was performed by traveling troupes.

"It took us 10 years to develop our comedy performance skills enough to present the comedia dell'arte," said Kim Tae-yong, the director of the festival and member of Wagon Stage. Since its foundation, the theater company has focused on comedies, especially farces that require plenty of versatility from the actors.

Mr. Kim pointed out that the style of commedia dell'arte is very similar to that of Korean traditional comedies, such as the mask dance: The mask dances are also performed impromptu with simple plots and conventional characters.

"If we reach a higher level in reproducing commedia dell'arte, we will be able to provide the substance of the Italian comedy in the form of the Korean traditional comedy or the substance of the Korean comedy in the form of the commedia dell'arte," Mr. Kim said.

"It would be really interesting if we could have a harlequin character appear in the mask of Malttuki," he added, referring to one of the standard characters in Korean mask dances. The harlequin is a buffoon of the commedia dell'arte, and wears a mask and multicolored tights; Malttuki is a buffoon of the Korean mask dance.

by Moon So-young

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