“Prince Puzzle” is on stage through Sept. 21 at Gyeonghui Palace in central Seoul. / Courtesy of Jukdorok Dalinda
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Delve into the musical of a missing prince and a heart-wrenching love story at Gyeonghui Palace in central Seoul with a cool autumn breeze.
Written by Han A-reum and directed by Seo Jae-hyeong of theater troupe Jukdorok Dalinda, which means running until death in Korean, "Prince Puzzle" premiered as a play in 2005 and was turned into a musical last year. Seo and Han are colleagues as well as husband and wife.
The musical revolves around a crown prince who went missing in the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) and people related to the disappearance including the king, queen, court lady Choi, chief eunuch Ha, eunuch Gu-dong and queen’s handmaiden Ja-suk.
While investigating the prince’s disappearance, it turns out that Gu-dong and Ja-suk had left their places. Choi presses to discover why, but finds that Ja-suk is pregnant with the king's baby. Meanwhile, the envious queen suspects a relationship between Ja-suk and Gu-dong.
Han said she first came up with a story of the president’s son going missing in modern times. “If something like that happens, all people will become suspects. However, it is too complicated to write a story related to the president and I shifted the background to the Joseon period,” she said. “However, I maintained the core idea of people who forgot their essence while absorbed in peripherals.”
With music by Hwang Ho-jun, a composer of traditional music, the story became more lyrical. A traditional orchestra and percussion section of some 40 members deliver the story.
She said it is worth watching the musical at its special location, despite the slight inconvenience. “There is a special sentiment at the palace. Generally, we spend some time to explain that this character is a king and this is a court lady in normal theaters. However, we don’t need that here. This is a palace and when the king says he is the king, that clarifies everything,” the playwright said.
The musical has a sound effect of crickets, but real crickets also chirp during the performance. “We didn’t sign contracts with the crickets, but they chirp at the right moment,” Seo said.
Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture (SFAC) has been staging musicals at Gyeonghui Palace since 2007. Other productions staged there include "Dreaming in Hwaseong," "The King's Jester," "Jewel in the Palace" and "The Last Empress."
All these musicals were staged on the stone platforms in front of Sungjeongjeon, the main building of the palace, and the audience looked up at the stage from the court. However, "Prince Puzzle" is set in the court and the audience looks down from the position of king.
Staging a musical at a cultural heritage site was full of limitations, Seo said. “There are at least five institutions involved in this musical _ Seoul City, SFAC, Cultural Heritage Administration, Jongno District Office and the local fire station. We put safety first,” he said. “Still, we wanted to keep the principle of the story ― it is a love story that happens in the most modest part of the palace. So we brought the stage down to the court.”
Seo let on that the center seats around row I and J are the best. "When I was watching the show, I heard that the audience sitting there wowed at the view from the seat. It is indeed the king's place," he said.
The whereabouts of the missing prince remains a mystery at the end of the show. The nanny court lady, who has been running around looking for the prince throughout the performance, keeps searching until the audience leaves the palace.
"Some people even asked her where the prince is," Han said with a smile. "The missing prince could be something we lost during our life."
Seo added, "However, the audience tends not to think seriously about the prince. He might be sleeping somewhere in the palace or playing hide-and-seek."
There are already inquiries about next year’s performance, but Seo and Han said come and see “Prince Puzzle” right away.
“The winds of this autumn will not be the same next year and this year’s crickets will not return next year. So this year’s ‘Prince Puzzle’ is unique as it is,” Han said.
"Prince Puzzle" runs through Sept. 21. Tickets cost from 30,000 to 50,000 won. The performance may be postponed due to adverse weather conditions.
For more information, visit www.wangseja.com or call 1577-3363.