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Simon Stone sets 'The Cherry Orchard' in turbulent Korean society

Jeon Do-yeon, Park Hae-soo bring modern reinterpretation of Chekhov’s play

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : April 29, 2024 - 16:36

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Jeon Do-yeon (right) and Park Hae-soo pose for photos during a press conference at the LG Arts Center in Seoul, April 23. (Yonhap) Jeon Do-yeon (right) and Park Hae-soo pose for photos during a press conference at the LG Arts Center in Seoul, April 23. (Yonhap)

Jeon Do-yeon and Park Hae-soo are each making a return to the stage in June with world-renowned director Simon Stone’s new production of “The Cherry Orchard.”

Celebrated for his deconstruction and reinterpretation of classics such as “Medea” and “Ibsen House,” Stone infuses Anton Chekhov’s tragicomedy with his visionary touch, setting the stage against the backdrop of present-day Korea.

Chekhov’s narrative, set in a rapidly changing society, contrasts the fate of a declining aristocracy with that of the rising middle class.

Stone, who harbors a two-decade obsession with Korean cinema and television, said Korea is a great setting for “The Cherry Orchard,” as he seeks to create a play that puts a mirror to the audience.

"This idea of very rapid change, the ways of the past being lost, the fight between tradition and innovation, the battle between generations, and this very melancholy, almost crazy movement between hope and despair that happens sometimes within a single sentence. That's very hard to find -- a place where that feels relevant,” said Stone at a press conference at the LG Arts Center in Seoul, last week.

From left: Director Simon Stone, actors Jeon Do-yeon and Park Hae-soo attend a press conference at the LG Arts Center in Seoul, on April 23. (LG Arts Center) From left: Director Simon Stone, actors Jeon Do-yeon and Park Hae-soo attend a press conference at the LG Arts Center in Seoul, on April 23. (LG Arts Center)

In Stone’s rendition, the story is transplanted to modern-day Korea, with Jeon in the role of Song Do-young, a reinterpretation of the original character, Lyuba Ranevsky. Returning to Seoul from the US after the tragic death of her son, she finds the city drastically changed from that of her memory, with the family home at risk of being lost.

For the Lyuba Ranevsky character, Stone said they needed to find a Korean Meryl Streep type, because the character is "a very hard role to make charming."

“The critiques of society that Chekhov has of the rich sometimes are not connected to the troubles of normal people, but you need to feel a human connection to the actual person,” Stone explained. "And Do-yeon is just a gift in that regard."

The Cherry Orchard" marks Jeon’s first return to the stage in 27 years.

“I always had a desire for the theater, but I was very afraid,” said Jeon. “Because I wasn’t confident to show an unrefined side from head to toe.”

The Cannes-winning star said she wanted to decline the offer of the role out of respect after watching “Medea.” But the play also “made her blood boil” as an actor, compelling her to accept the role.

Jeon Do-yeon (left) and Park Hae-soo (LG Arts Center) Jeon Do-yeon (left) and Park Hae-soo (LG Arts Center)

Playing a modern incarnation of the pragmatic and cool-headed merchant Lopakhin, Hwang Doo-shik, is Park, known for his roles in Netflix’s “Squid Game,” “Money Heist” and “Narco-Saints.”

"I couldn’t let the opportunity (to play Lopakhin) pass me by," Park said.

“’The Cherry Orchard’ was frequently used in free acting sessions in college, and I also practiced a lot with this script. I had a big aspiration for the Lopakhin character -- especially how a person changes to the point of saying the line ‘I bought it.’ I was so eager to deliver that line.”

Stone praised Park for his ability to embody both presence and vulnerability, essential qualities for Lopakhin’s transformation.

“Lopakhin is a role that has to start as a very nervous working-class man who feels like he's not good enough for the people around him. Then by the end, he needs to be a tycoon. So, we needed someone who can do both of those things,” said Stone.

Joining Jeon and Park on the stage are Sohn Sang-gyu, Choi Hee-seo, Lee Ji-hye, Nam Yun-ho, Yoo Byung-hun, Park Yu-rim, Lee Sae-jun and Lee Ju-won.

“The Cherry Orchard” will run from June 4 to July 7 at the LG Arts Center in Seoul.