Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Shakespeare in Hanbok
'Merchant of Venice' Transformed Into Korean Traditional Musical

band of hanbok-clad actors and actresses perform or, rather, play around in a crowded amphitheater. They sing, dance and banter, sometimes with expletives and at other times sharing jokes with the audience.
Puzzled but nevertheless entertained, the audience, seated just a step apart from the performance, gradually find themselves becoming part of the satirical play. By the end, the boundary between the performers and spectators has disappeared _ or, perhaps there was no such line from the beginning.

This is how the traditional performance ``Madang Nori,’’ meaning outdoor play, has gained wide popularity in its brief existence. Created three decades ago, Madang Nori combines traditional features from mask dance, pansori and old-time clown performances. The genre has succeeded in building a rapport with the audience and drawing energetic responses from the locals, a connection that has translated into both commercial and artistic success.

The Madang Nori specialist Michoo Theater Company has drawn around 200,000 viewers every year since it first introduced the genre in 1981. They have since visited theatrical scenes every winter with a new adaptation of Korean classics, including ``Hungbo-ga’’ ``Sugung-ga’’ and ``Hong Kil-tong.’’

This year, however, the troupe is staging an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ``The Merchant of Venice.’’ It will be the first time a Madang Nori piece is derived from a Western classic.

``It has always been recreations of Korean classics. This time, it’s from the West, but we have long been thinking of staging a foreign play in the traditional format,’’ the theater company head Son Jin-chaek said.

Titled ``Mapo Hwangbuja,’’ meaning ``Merchant Hwang in Mapo,’’ the script seems to gain motifs from the Shakespeare’s masterpiece, but also adopts dramatic factors from ``Romeo & Juliet’’ and Korea’s traditional tales of ``Hong Kil-tong’’ and ``Sim Chong.’’

In the story, the hero ``Hwang’’ (Yoon Moon-shik, whose name is almost synonymous with the theoretical genre) nurses grudge on Kim (Chong Tae-hwa), who declined to help in Hwang’s past tough days.

Decades later, Kim’s grown-up son Mu-suk (Lee Ki-bong) visits now-rich and greedy Hwang to borrow some money for his trade business with China. Revengeful Hwang offers the money on the same condition with Shylock’s, the young man’s flesh.

And, unlike the British original, it was Hwang’s daughter Man-gum (Kim Seong-nyeo) who comes up with the Solomon’s wisdom to save her lover and enlighten her avaricious father.

Son, who is also the director, said foreigners will not be able to follow the lines because of language, but watching is not only understanding each line. ``I have seen many expatriates enjoy our works with a little background knowledge about the narrative,’’ he said.

``Besides many other theatrical factors, they especially seem to like the active interactions between the performers and audience,’’ Son added.

The performance features the genre’s most representative performers _ Yoon, Kim Jong-yeop and Kim Seong-nyeo.

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