Wednesday, October 5, 2011

'Looking for' rediscovers family values

A new musical “Looking for Family” brings the story of two old ladies and three animals living in a rural area to the stage, accompanied by hearty yet fun numbers. The homegrown play portrays how they grow into a real family, sharing their sorrows and secrets.

It is set in Palhyeon Village, situated on the outskirts of the southern city of Daegu. An old lady, Park Bok-ja (played by Kim Hyun-jung) lives with a dog named Mong (Nam Jung-woo), a cat named Nyang (Kim Tae-gyeong) and a hen named Kko (Lee Sang-eun). She makes a living by collecting scrap paper and selling wild herbs.

Her peaceful days with the three animals are broken when another old woman, Ji Hwa-ja (Ju Eun), enters into her home with an envelope bearing the house’s address. Curious and talkative, Ji insists the property belongs to her son since he sent a letter from the address and refuses to leave. Dumbfounded at this invasion, Park tries various ways to throw Ji out, but ends up helping her look for the son.

They head downtown and visit a post office and police station and stop by a photo studio to make fliers. Ji applies make-up to Park and they take a photo together in an awkward yet heartwarming scene.

The two remind the audience of typical old ladies who easily become acquainted with others and know the importance of having company at mealtimes.

The three animals also have their stories. Mong was rescued by Park after escaping from a dog seller, while Nyang the cat was beloved by her former owner, but abandoned after she became pregnant. Kko the hen has a strong maternal instinct to save her eggs, without knowing they are unfertilized. But they have one trait in common _ they are all gluttonous.

Oh Mi-young, the writer of the original story and director of the musical, got the idea of “Looking for Family” from a documentary featuring two elderly women. She explored Palhyeon Village, designated as a greenbelt zone, and listened to the tales of residents there, adding a more realistic, folksy atmosphere to the show.

The playwright-director first wanted to cast actresses who are actually about the same age as the characters to play the role of Park and Ji, but it was difficult to find such people as they have to sing, dance and act for 100 minutes for months on end. Luckily, she found two actresses who have abundant experience in playing older roles, having done so from their 20s. The actresses are now in their 30s.

The music composed by Cho Sun-hyeong covers Korean folk songs to popular music and children's songs. Park and Ji's number "You Are Pretty" at the photo studio shows how they open up to each other and become friends, while Kko sings of her agony over which came first, the chicken or the egg.

The musical does not have spectacular sets or fancy projections like other local hits, but a remodeled "hanok," or Korean-style house, with a slate roof reminds people of typical rural area in Korea.

Though the title is translated as family in English, the original Korean wording "sikgu" means family members as well as people who live under the same roof and eat together.

In these days, it is difficult for real family members to sit at a table and have a meal together as each of them are busy with their own lives, but "Looking for Family" awakens the true sense of family.

The production runs through Nov. 6 at Theater Blue in Chungmu Art Hall, central Seoul. Tickets cost 30,000 won. For more information, visit or call (02) 2230-6601.

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