Maude steals the show from Harold

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Maude steals the show from Harold

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The veteran play actor Park Jeong-ja, 64, is likely to be remembered as one of the first Koreans who “staged a play using her own name as a brand.”
That phrase is from “19 and 80,” a Korean play based on “Harold and Maude,” by Colin Higgins. The story is about a depressed, young man who meets and befriends Maude, an 80-year-old woman with a zest for life.
For the last four years, Park has been playing the role of the 80-year-old woman, changing young male partners every year. Though she skipped it last year, many critics agree that “19 and 80” would not have been so successful without Park’s charismatic performance.
The success of the play is also interesting, because it’s not a one-woman show like “Loiselle” or “Shirley Valentine,” which also star some of the top veteran theater actresses. It’s unusual in Korea to see a play that has built its repertoire around a single actress.
The lucky man this year is Yun Tae-woong (as a little boy, Yun was famous when he led the parade at the opening ceremony of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, rolling a hoop in front of him).
The story evolves around the character of Harold, who discovers the value of life after he meets Maude. In the original, the male lead plays an equally important role, but in the Korean version, the focus inevitably shifted to the female lead. Park Jeong-ja quickly put her trademark on the play.
Park’s performance has become increasingly rich and more colorful. She plays an innocent yet mature woman who manages to observe life with a sense of detachment.
Her partner? Unfortunately, Yun’s acting has been compared by theater critics to a “mouse in front of a cat.” But Yun wasn’t the first male lead to be so lacking. The two previous actors who played the male lead were also criticized for mishandling the depth of Harold’s emotional complexity.
But perhaps the charm of “19 and 80” stems from its shaky balance between a young man and a mature woman, something that mirrors the more typical relationships between older men and younger women.
“I’ll continue to stage the play until I’m 80,” Park has repeatedly said.
The critics at least expect to see her play until a smart young actor comes along to show audiences Harrold’s true charms.


by Choi Min-woo

“19 and 80” plays on Woorim Cheongdam Theater through Feb. 19. For more information, call (02) 739-8289.
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