As one of the first offerings of this year's Midtown Theatre Festival, Haerry Kim's Walking Through the Night is an auspicious beginning. While halting in places, it offers an intriguing look into Korean customs and identity.
A multimedia piece, Walking Through the Night explores the Korean custom of sasibgu-je, a traditional rite for the dead 49 days after death. The custom allows family members to say a final goodbye to their loved one. Bada (Suzie Moon), a rebellious 21-year-old, returns home for her grandmother's sasibgu-je, though she missed the funeral. She argues with her parents constantly and bitterly, but stays -- her older sister, Hanna, is sick. Hanna (Haerry Kim) has just returned from an exchange program in Korea, where she was injured during a demonstration. Her ankle is healing, but her mind is not. She doesn't recognize anyone or anything. Slowly, over the course of three days, the family draws together, setting aside their differences in order to honor the memory of the grandmother. And as the family begins the long road to recovery, so does Hanna.
More than just a play about a dysfunctional family, Walking Through the Night also raises the question: what is the difference between Korean, Korean-American, and just plain American? Each of the daughters is going through some sort of identity crisis related to the conflict between their Korean upbringing and their American life. Kim's commendable play guides the audience through the pitfalls of such an identity crisis (though it does not make the reason for Hanna's mental breakdown abundantly clear), and offers non-Korean watchers a chance to empathize with the characters.
Because it was dreamlike and nonlinear at times, and set on a completely bare stage, the multimedia format worked very well. The montage of moving images was cast onto a large projection screen, along with the titles of the scenes a la Brecht; the soundscape was equally dreamy, and fit the video and mood of the play perfectly. Sound and video designer Liubo Borissov did an excellent job.
The play is softly elegiac, befitting a story about death; director Christopher Petit attempted to create a lyrical staging, with mixed results. At times, the actors flowed easily between the real and dream worlds, effortlessly incorporating the video; at other times, the movements were stilted, and the transitions suffered. Speedier entrances and exits (and lighting cues) would have helped. The stage, a bare black box with only a screen, was perhaps too big; occasionally the cast seemed lost in all that space.
But the acting was strong, nevertheless. Kim and Moon were especially noteworthy. The entire cast (also with Jenifer Boggs, Ho Jung, Vedant Goklay, and Young Jun Kim) had a strong ensemble dynamic.
While the pace lagged now and then, Walking Through the Night was both visually and intellectually stimulating. Best of all, it is not necessary to be Korean to enjoy the play. Because Korean culture is not often explored onstage, the play provides a new and interesting outlook for American audiences. And really, that's the point of theatre: to open up new worlds and present new ways of thinking.
(Lighting design, Jonathan Fuchs.)
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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman