[BOOK REVIEW]American dramatist explores sex slave issueIt all started when American playwright Lavonne Mueller visited Tokyo in the early 1990s to study kabuki, a form of traditional Japanese drama.
She saw a group of Korean women protesting on the streets. As a curious person, she asked around, but the passersby were either ignorant or avoided giving an answer.
Later that day, Mueller was told that the protesters were former comfort women of the Japanese military during World War II.
Mueller, 61, was shocked.
She embarked on a journey of research, looking for materials on what she thought was an incredible story. She spoke to several Korean-Americans, relatives of comfort women and to several historians.
She visited “Hotel Splendid,” one of the comfort stations in Japan, which is also the title of her two-act play, which she wrote in 2001. Hotel Splendid won an award for an outstanding drama opposing war and injustice, which is given out at the Peace Writing at the Boston Theater Works Festival in 2001.
“I was enraged by the historical silence,” Mueller said. “I felt compelled to inform the world about what happened to some 200,000 comfort women back then.”
Mueller, the author of “Letters to a Daughter from Prison,” “Violent Peace” and “The Wounded Do Not Cry,” is currently in Korea to promote her play, which will be staged at Arko Arts Theater in Daehangno, central Seoul.
“Any injustice against a group or individual is a tragedy to me,” she said.
“I chose to write a play about comfort women because it is a secret atrocity that few people in the U.S. or other countries know about,” she said.
After the war ended, the Japanese army abandoned, massacred or shot the women who had survived until 1945, she said.
“Many of the women who went home killed themselves because of the shame and rejection,” she said, based on her research. “But there’s nothing to be shameful of.”
The play depicts four Korean comfort women — Keum-soon, 17, Ok Dong-ya, 18, Shun Hi, 11, and Kwinyo, 16, plus an unnamed Japanese pilot. Each of the women describe their experience in the camp through a monologue.
“Every night I tell myself tomorrow I’m free,” Ok says. The second act takes place in the camp and relates how the women try to survive and how the pilot and one of the women strike up a romantic relationship.
“Every human emotion is in the story: pain, perseverance, rage, evasion, endless waits, friendship and love,” said Park Chung-euy, the director.
“Hotel Splendid” will be staged at the Arko Arts Theater from April 30 to May 5. English subtitles are available. Half the proceeds will be donated to the House of Sharing, a home of many living comfort women, in Gwangju.
For more information, call (02) 929-6417.