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WWII sex slaves’ anguish on stage

Playwright Kim Hae-rry reworking her one-woman play for Korean audiences


An old woman sits in her living-room drawing women’s faces.

She wants to draw all the faces of Korea’s former sex slaves before she dies. She says, “I don’t want to try to forget anymore. I draw to remember.”

So starts “Face” ― a multimedia play telling of the estimated 200,000 women forced to serve as so-called “comfort women” during World War II.

An extract from the English-language “Face,” a production that gained critical acclaim in the U.S. and the U.K., was performed Tuesday at Seoul Women’s Plaza Art Hall in Daebang-dong as part of the International Women’s Day Centenary Celebration.

Theatergoers in Korea will soon have the opportunity to see the full Korean-language version. Playwright Kim Hae-rry is reworking her one-woman play to run at the World Festival of National Theaters at the National Theater in Seoul in September.

“Face” portrays a Korean woman in her 80s telling of her abduction and sexual slavery at the hands of Japanese soldiers, and her subsequent fight for an official apology from the Japanese government.

Kim ― who studied theater at the University of Iowa and Columbia University in the U.S. after getting an undergraduate degree in political science in Korea ― was compelled to write the play after reading personal testimonies from surviving military sex slaves. 
Kim Hae-rry
Kim Hae-rry

“It completely shook me to my core,” she said. “Reading the testimony of each survivor and what they went through put a human face on the issue for me. It was personal, visceral, and real.”

Moved by their stories, Kim was compelled to convey the women’s courage on the international stage.

“Their survival and continuing fight to get official apologies from the Japanese government should inspire all of us,” she told the Korea Herald.

“Their story is an excellent example of the resilience of the human spirit,” she said.

The Korean debut of “Face” ― first performed in 2009 at New York’s soloNOVA Arts Festival, before traveling to Scotland’s Edinburgh International Fringe Festival in 2010 ― comes after Kim returned to her native Korea last year to spend more time with her ill mother.

Following a decade-long theatrical career in the U.S., she is now training acting students at Kookmin University as well as professional thespians at the National Theater of Korea.

Kim also aims to bring two brand new productions to Seoul with her ETS (eye to soul) Theater Company.

“The Sound of Nightingales,” to be staged in April, is based on the true story of a Korean teenager murdered by two 13-year-old boys, which Kim read about in newspaper reports in 2010. The play tells of a girl who was raped and burned to death, a boy who took part in the crime, and the plight of her grief-stricken father after the events.

Although Kim’s two current plays are based on real-life Korean scenarios, she says she seeks to find universal meaning in these tragic accounts.

Of “The Sound of Nightingales,” Kim said, “(At first) I focused more on loopholes in the South Korean education and social systems. Now, I want to broaden the story into more fundamental questions about crime, the inability to feel remorse, coping with grief and continuing with life.

“These plays are about Korean events but I hope they speak of international issues.”

ETS Theater Company will stage a production with South Korean actors in Seoul in April before taking an English version of the play using American and Korean actors to New York.

“The Sound of Nightingales” will be staged at Ka-mang Theater in Daehakro from Apr. 14-24.

Kim’s next project for Seoul later in the year is titled “The Bathtub Play,” which will be a lighter play about modern love.

Exact dates for this and the Korean production of “Face” are yet to be announced.

By Kirsty Taylor (kirstyt@heraldcorp.com)
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