Like a breath of fresh air, Kim Sung Nyo’s one-woman show is a delightful two-hour, bedtime-story-with-song that will delight children of all ages even as it depicts the travesty of ideological inanity from another point of view.
The division of Korea into north and south is, quite naturally (given that the “war” has yet to be officially ended and the present-day nuclear posturing from Kim Jong-il remains), still on the minds and in the hearts of young and senior Korean artists alike (cross-reference below). In Bae Sam Sik’s adaptation of Fukuda Yoshiyuki’s original script, we see the horrors of partition through the eyes of women who had to endure the consequences of betrayal, barbarism and botched “statesmanship” of the “stronger” sex.
Hidden (jail with home privileges) in the wall is a man who will face certain death if his whereabouts are discovered by the authorities. His sin was to lead his fellow citizens to the North and safety from the marauding communists as the Korean War broke out. Anyone who ventured north, of course, must be the “enemy.” Worse, his daughter—believing him to be a ghost, a.k.a. fairy—mimics his Russian lullaby. Hearing that her mother is petrified that singing a song from the birthplace of the communists (nothing to do with the text, of course, it’s just an earlier version of profiling) may cause the neighbours to turn them in.
Playing well over two-dozen roles, Nyo sweeps about the sparsely-set stage with easy authority. She has a special affinity for portraying the very young and the grouchy old men—managing to put a gargle in her throat for such characters as the opportunistic Panama Jang and a convincing rasp as the forty-years trapped then released “fairy” beats the odds and dies of natural causes.
The action is generously peppered with the songs and music of Kim Chul Hwan. Not surprisingly, they have a folk base; a few exhibit a light-pop swing. The midi accompaniment gets a little too sweet at times. Strikingly, the final wedding scene begins innocuously enough with a solo piano treatment of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” but the cut to the full-blown chorus and orchestra recording is as aurally out of place as it is welcome relief from the “genuine imitation” orchestrations which preceded.
The real-life horrors of rape, murder and descent into madness are tossed off nearly humorously. Incredibly, that approach (expertly crafted by director Sohn Jin Chaek’s inventive blocking) works—especially for the many children in the audience who aren’t spared the truth (as much as they can comprehend) but who aren’t left at home because the subject matter is too “adult” for young minds. Kudos all around for finding a compromise that lets our younger generation discover the realities of their parents’ foibles in a non-threatening environment.
Never shy on or off stage, Nyo delights the room as she ventures into the aisles selling invisible eggs to all who choose to see there’s nothing there.
From a North American perspective, Fairy in the Wall (or closet, as some translations have it) also conjures up a morality play for gays and lesbians who have had to hide away their truth or face persecution and intolerance for something which they have no choice. Intentional or not, this musical monodrama also works on that level for anyone with a vivid imagination and belief in magic sticks. Sadly, those are not the ones that need to see and understand the compelling message that this production brings in every scene. JWR