‘Azure Day‘ captures tumult of May 18
By Kwon Mee-yoo
“On an Azure Day,” dealing with the 1980 Gwangju Pro-democracy Movement, returns to Namsan Arts Center after winning the Korea Play Award.
It premiered last year and revolves around Yeosan, a middle-aged monk practicing asceticism at a mountain temple in South Jeolla Province. When he hears about the marriage of his niece Un-hwa, Yeosan retraces his memory 30 years back and faces his younger self.
Three decades ago, he was Oh Min-ho, an ordinary university student dating a girl called Jeong-hye and teaching at a night school in the southern city of Gwangju.
His life takes an unexpected turn when he joins the civilian militia in a provincial building. Many people are shot dead, including Jeong-hye’s brother. But after water torture, Min-ho cops out to save his life. His wandering and a mental breakdown lead him to embrace Buddhism, renouncing the world and his pregnant girlfriend. It’s left to Min-ho’s brother Jin-ho to look after Jeong-hye.
Their lives coincide once again at Un-hwa’s wedding.
The simple black stage leaps through space and time — from the South Jeolla Provincial Office where civilians confront soldiers and a green tea field in Boseong, South Jeolla Province in 1980 to a mountain temple and teahouse in Seoul in the present. The paintings of the Four Devas and the sound of drums evoke Yeosan’s old memories, while a long tea table moving up and down makes the characters make unexpected movements.
Instead of burdening the audience with heavy historical background, “Azure Day” offers comical characters and a larger-than-life acting style, while Kim Nam-ju’s poem “Massacre Part II” and Song Chang-sik’s song “On an Azure Day” based on poet Seo Jeong-ju’s “Azure Day” add depth to the play.
The May 18 Democratization Movement of Gwangju was a pivotal event in the modern history of Korea. Citizens there protested against then-President Chun Doo-hwan from May 18 to 27, 1980. Official reports claim that about 190 people were killed and 380 were injured, including civilians, soldiers and policemen, but the actual death toll exceeded 1,000.
Directing a play based on such a tragic event is likely to end up serious or overly emotional for some. Taking on this challenge, Koh Sun-woong of Play Factory Mabangzen, known for his unique style of humor, interpreted it in a basic and simplistic way.
Koh defines the piece as “a cheerfully exaggerated melodrama.” The actors rattle out bombastic lines and remain poker-faced, despite laughter bursting out from the audiences.
Written by Jung Kyung-jin and awarded the third Cha Beom-seok Drama Award, “Azure Day” narrates the story of the victim, the perpetrator and the bystander.
“I wanted to portray the people in the middle, not the left or the right,” Koh said. “There must have been onlookers during the May 18 movement. Not everyone could risk their lives for patriotism in such a fearful situation. ‘Azure Day’ exonerates those people.”
Co-produced by Namsan Arts Center and Seensee Company, “Azure Day” continues through May 20 at Namsan Arts Center in Yejang-dong, central Seoul. Tickets cost 15,000 won for students and 25,000 won for adults.
For more information, call (02) 758-2150 or visit www.iseensee.com.