Stage Plays Find Praise Outside Korean Cocoon

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Stage Plays Find Praise Outside Korean Cocoon

In wake of last year's big successes overseas for Korean films, many Korean plays are being targeted at foreign audiences both here and abroad.

"Subway Number One," staged by the Hakjeon Production Company, is one such example. Written and dramatized by the composer and folk singer, Kim Min-ki, the play, which was first produced in 1994, has been praised by many critics for its realistic portrayal of working-class Seoulites fed up with harsh life in the city. Subway line number 1, the oldest Seoul subway line, is a poetic metaphor for mass culture. The performance is with English subtitles and is on stage in Daehakro - one of Seoul's most fashionable fringe theater districts. In April, "Subway Number One" will go on world tour, thanks in part to a grant of 100 million won ($80,000) from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The play "Uihyeongje" (Blood Brothers) also from the Hakjeon Production Company, is another example of productions aimed at international audiences. Tracing the tragic story of two brothers separated by the Korean War, the play uses a personal family history to discuss the divided Koreas. The emotional drama has gained such popularity among expatriates that in February, the organizers added Japanese and English subtitles.

But perhaps nothing compares with the "Nanta" frenzy. With a cast of five performers miming culinary preparations for a wedding reception dinner, the smash hit puts the rhythms of samulnori, Korea's famed four-instrument folk percussion, into a setting where the only instruments on hand are kitchen utensils.

The non-verbal performance, hailed by foreigners and Koreans alike, seemed perfectly suited for export. Song Seung-hun, the director of the PMC Theater Company, even agreed to a "Nanta Tour" in cooperation with big-name Japanese travel companies, Japanese Travel Bureau and PANA. The tour began in February, drawing large crowds. "Nanta" is also headed for North America in September under a contract guarantee of $4 million with the Richard Franklin Production Company.

Despite the show's commercial success, the company behind it has been accused of trying to exploit the show's success by concocting additional events of questionable quality.

In general there is fear that the growth of the commercial theater production industry in Korea threatens the vibrancy of the small fringe scene in Daehakro.

by Park Soo-mee

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