All the world’s a stage for chairwoman of the boards

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All the world’s a stage for chairwoman of the boards

Park Jung-ja, the 61-year-old stage actress, has several nicknames. The two most frequent are “Godmother of the Korean stage scene” and “Charisma Park.” Beginning in the role of the protagonist in “Phedra” in 1962, Ms. Park has been on stage for five decades. With her trademark resonant voice and absorbing personality, Ms. Park has chiefly played strong and emphatic roles.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Ms. Park looked far from charismatic. Seated backstage at the Jeongmiso Theater in Daehangno, northeastern Seoul, site of her latest play, “Harold and Maude,” Ms. Park was without her usual thick mascara and crimson lipstick. Her hair was dyed light gray and cosmetic wrinkles covered her face and hands. The role that Ms. Park was to play in one hour was 80-year-old Maude, who falls in love with 19-year-old Harold (Lee Jong-hyuk). The Korean version is titled “19 and 80,” and the production runs until March 16.
"I’ve been waiting for the right time to play Maude for 15 years,” Ms. Park said. Audiences have, too, it seems. Ms. Park holds a stack of printouts -- raves from online fan club members. Most of the viewers thank her for opening their eyes to the world of the stage.
Even offstage, Ms. Park speaks and acts like Maude. It’s not that she relates to the character; she just transforms herself into a new person.
Mr. Lee, 28, a new face on the Korean stage, said, “It’s an honor to be on the same stage with Ms. Park. I’ve learned a lot from her on how to be a real professional.”
“I’m still too young to be the perfect Maude,” Ms. Park said, smiling. “I want to be Maude onstage until the day I turn 80. Aging is, after all, not such a bad thing. It gives you wisdom and courage.”
The staff members of the Jeongmiso Theater recognize that wisdom and repeatedly greet her with deep, respectful bows. Meanwhile, Ms. Park gives little thought to her status. “I decided to give everything to the stage,” she said. “And I expect the same from the people I work with.” From the moment she first took the stage at age 20, a journalism major at Ewha Womans University, Ms. Park knew that theater was her destiny.
"On the stage, unlike being on the screen, I can communicate with the audience. That’s why I love being a stage actress ― it’s more human, more immediate.”
In “Harold and Maude,” the line she likes best is one that goes, “The reason why men get unhappy is that they want to be machines.”
“I’m going to die before the time when machines rule everything,” she says. “That’s just not a world that I want to live in.” Then what does she want to be written on her tombstone?
“One sentence will be enough,” she said. “Park Jung-ja, a true stage actress.”

by Chun Su-jin
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