Seven Contemporary Plays from the Korean Diaspora in the Americas

Seven Contemporary Plays from the Korean Diaspora in the Americas


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Seven Contemporary Plays from the Korean Diaspora in the Americas by Esther Kim Lee

Showcasing the dynamism of contemporary Korean diasporic theater, this anthology features seven plays by second-generation Korean diasporic writers from the United States, Canada, and Chile. By bringing the plays together in this collection, Esther Kim Lee highlights the themes and styles that have enlivened Korean diasporic theater in the Americas since the 1990s. Some of the plays are set in urban Koreatowns. One takes place in the middle of Texas, while another unfolds entirely in a character's mind. Ethnic identity is not as central as it was in the work of previous generations of Asian diasporic playwrights. In these plays, experiences of diaspora and displacement are likely to be part of broader stories, such as the difficulties faced by a young mother trying to balance family and career. Running through these stories are themes of assimilation, authenticity, family, memory, trauma, and gender-related expectations of success. Lee's introduction includes a brief history of the Korean Peninsula in the twentieth century and of South Korean immigration to the Americas, along with an overview of Asian American theater and the place of Korean American theater within it. Each play is preceded by a brief biography of the playwright and a summary of the play's production history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822352747
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 08/21/2012
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Esther Kim Lee is Associate Professor of Theater and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of A History of Asian American Theatre.

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Duke University Press

Copyright © 2012 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5274-7

Chapter One

HISTORY K Edward Bok Lee

Edward Bok lee is a poet, fiction writer, and playwright. He was born in South Korea in 1971 and grew up in North Dakota and Minnesota. He became actively involved in theater as one of the original members of Theater Mu during his freshman year at the university of Minnesota. He continued to grow as a playwright while pursuing an MFA degree in Creative writing at Brown University, where he took several playwriting workshops with Paula Vogel, Chuck Mee, and Aishah Rahman. His plays include Glow, Permanence Collection (co-written with Kira Obolensky), Passage, St. Petersburg, Athens County, and 10,000 Kilometer. His work has been produced or developed at the Guthrie Theater, the New York Theatre Workshop, the Public Theater, Theater Mu, Taipei Theatre, East west Players, Thirst Theater, Ma-Yi Theater Company, Trinity Repertory Company, and the Walker Art Center. He has won the McKnight Artists Fellowship, two national Jerome Fellowships, and the Weston Fine Arts Prize for Best Graduate Play at Brown University, as well as fellowships from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the New York Theatre Workshop, where he has served as a playwright-in-residence. He is currently a Core Member at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis. He has published his plays with Vintage books, Smith and Kraus, and Playscripts. A collection of his writings, Real Karaoke People: Poems and Prose (New River Press), received the PEN Open Book Award in 2006. His second book, Whorled (Coffee House Press), was published in 2011. History K (1999) started as a poem and was originally titled "Whorled." History K was part of the Jerome Fellowship Five Alive Series at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis in 1998. A later staged reading of the play was presented at the New York Theatre Workshop and Ma-Yi Theater Company in 2004. The staged reading at the Playwrights' Center was directed by the playwright and featured Jeany Park in the role of K.


K: an Asian prostitute, middle-aged, on her final night of work


In an Asian country, near a U.S. military base


a vanity table covered with old jars and tubes of cosmetics. K enters in robe, takes seat, staring front into "mirror." organizes makeup, etc. a ritual. eventually begins to apply foundation. sees postcard in top corner of mirror. removes and stares. lips its written words to herself. eventually removes cassette from drawer, places it in cassette player on dressing table and pushes play. while applying foundation to face.

TAPE "Bonjour"

(she repeats the French in heavy, artfully "Asian" accent.)

TAPE Good day.

(she repeats the English in heavy, artfully "Asian" accent.)

TAPE "Je m'appelle Jacques."

(she repeats the above.)

TAPE "My name is Jack."

(she repeats the above.)

TAPE "Quelle heure est-il?"

(she repeats the above.)

TAPE "What time is it?"

(she repeats the above.)

TAPE "Voulez-vous du thé?"

(she repeats the above.)

TAPE "Would you care for some tea?"

(she repeats the above. she hits stop. fast forwards.)

TAPE La Bretagne est la premiere province francaise qu'on ait dotee d'un

progamme d'—

(she hits stop, staring front for some moments, looks at postcard again, turns it over and stares at picture, reads.)

K Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

(finishes applying foundation; powders throughout rambling.)

Arc de Triomphe. Ah. Ah. Ah

Deu. Deu. Deu

Peu. Pheu. Pheu. Peu

(stops, closes eyes.)

Apport. Apport

Of a share issue bid for investor. Apport

(resumes powdering face in "mirror.")

Apport. Apport. A - pp - ort



Purchase of a ... security ...

Nearly. Instantaneously ...

In one market ...


(pleased, begins makeup again, continues for some seconds, examining face.)

Of purchasing additional shares when ...


(frowns for a moment frozen, finally remembers.)

To bring down ...

Nearly instantaneously ...

To bring down ...

To averaging the ...

... cost

(resumes makeup for a time.)

Averaging. Averaging. Is he averaging, Mr. Lee? Is he averaging again? I'd like to average that. Could we average that, Mr. Lee? Arbitrage. Averaging. Avis d'attribution. Avis d'attribution. Avis d'—

(pause. she then begins to search drawer for Dictionary of the Securities Industries, locates it, reads.)

See Allotment letter.

(turns pages.)

Successful applicant for a new share issue ... see allotment ... will receive ...

(turns page.)

an allotment letter

(contemplates vacantly, then slams book shut, staring front for a moment into "mirror," touches face.)

Arc de Triomphe


(beat. in darkness, K turns on pink lamp at table and begins powdering while speaking.)

(begins in "daughter's" voice.)

Come live with me in Paris, she says. Earned a little money a dancer and all of a sudden a queen. Queen of France. Not twenty years old. What would I do in France, really, what could I do, did you ever think of that, so young, you can't be so naive, not there, do you know how old I've become in the meantime, did you stop and think, have you ever stopped to think, what I would do there, ever, stop to think, at my age, be someone's maid, or nanny, good for nothing else, tongue all shriveled, eyes weary, wash hardwood floors, on my hands and knees, an immigrant, scrub till my blood and bones are so thin I am part air, do you think of me that way, your own mother ...

(ceases, has over- powdered.)

a ghost already?

(observes, sees postcard, places back in top corner of mirror.)

(applies eyeliner.)

But then when did you ever think ahead from the time a small girl in coasters, so morose, that button nose, not like you to consider me, across the sea, no, me who did the best she could under the circumstances, yes, all she could, alone in those days, oh yes, no, oh yes, what days they were to have to do all you, gods of fire in the fabric mill leaping from such high high windows

(pause. lost in thought. resumes eyeliner.)

Never thinking ahead, nearly run over, twice that summer, in the street, by the pier, almost fell in looking, your first word: go, flat on her face, crying, laughing, who could tell, quiet child, crying outside while laughing inside, who could tell, by the pier, so fucking morose, then suddenly, did you ever hold such a fucking morose child? a sack of rice full of ... buttons ... grasshopper legs ... then, one by one ... teeth

(different eyeliner.)

Go go go through to rough years, more alone then ever, no comfort, not a soft moment, stinky pillow, and her, you, Magical Orchid, so silent like sickness, short hair, long hair, old enough for what, short hair, long hair, curly hair, long hair, bleached for a week, scurrying around the house, rabbit, rabbit, maybe you don't deserve to eat, disco queen be inside the head with a hot tip, scalding, because your hair looks like shit, comb it, then yes, go set it on fire for all I care

Cry cry cry

Crazy girl, crazy mother? I want to be a singer, she says, a singer on the base, crazy girl, or in New York or Paris, pipe dreams, sniper sniping cheese, want to sing, so sing, I said, only you'll need a visa, and there's only two ways for that

(long pause.)

What would I know in France, what will I ever know, do, where would I go, music like the teeth of some foreign animal swimming through the air

(staring front into "mirror.")



Did all I could to brighten your moods, even bought that pink terrycloth summer dress, yes, yellow sandals, a red ice-cream cone in her little hand, melting, traffic passing, how she beamed that day, remember, remember, could have passed for anyone's child on the street, not just mine, not just half mine, around the eyes, the nose



could have even left you there

(searches for mascara, applies for several seconds in silence.)

Because they go. Leave

Ah, but a son. A man to hold up your tired bones, maybe dance with you, the cologne you've bought him for his first girlfriend like wings that will bring you grandchildren

But a girl, and one with such a country name. What's so magical? What thinking, like a farm-girl, not thinking, not properly at least, orchid. Magical Orchid. Stupid fucking country name

(closely examines face so far, left to right, front.)

Because, really, how's she going to be a famous picture star with such a country name, I didn't have to, all the girls, suckling, tit metal and bleeding, what were you thinking, not thinking, Katherine, Marilyn, Genevieve, anything, what were you thinking, because how will she ever become anything better with such a country name and big eyes, to big for her button nose

And no father

Like a stalk of cattail torn open in the wind

(resumes lipstick.)

Dead log floating home

Rice patty groaning with fallen leaves

(stops. face now almost freakishly white, pressing lips until pleased. rises and exits. returns in sunflower hat on head, adjusts it, returns. adjusts hat, examines self in mirror. adjusts hat.)

You want them all to be

And yet none can see



"Upper class lady!"

And me placing a coin in his sweet sticky little palm, filthy little beggar boy, and he, smiling, and I, and we giving more to one another than a shiny coin

Through the eyes

(stares at self in "mirror.")

Did I dream him?

Little beggar boy, little small greasy child, and me in my orange dress, such dead black teeth, spaces, where new ones should be coming in, the old falling away

"Upper-class lady!"

Am I a dreamer?

Because I'll suck your eyes out, I swear, she said



Do I dream too much?

Little boy with the face of a dog

Maybe dreaming right now ...

(stares at self in "mirror" for a long time. then:)

Flight in the eye already, child, same size, a stick of peppermint in one hand and my crepe yellow church dress underneath my blue school uniform, and what kind of hat? And black lacquer box, lit on the topside, mother of pearl, inside no jewels, but photographs, tens of them, twenty-nine, who are they, stuffed into my canvas knapsack, one American dollar against hipbone, sewn, run!!!

(beat. calm, in child's voice.)

Father, where are we going?

(opens eyes.)

No reply Earthen jar of honey, fallen to polished hardwood, crack of a man's skull with rifle butt in the rainy lot, see the trail of ants, sniffles, a little cough hardly louder than itself, in the next room, baby brother's, sick in the crib, jail- faced, head of dark lychee fuzz

(in child's voice.)

Where will we be when we get there?

No reply

(seated, begins brushing hair, marching legs in place.)

Soldiers' legs redoubled in the street puddles

Olive green trucks, well- weathered, tanks, what little boy, where? charred, rusted underbellies and mud- caked hulls, aching, ticking

(stops brushing, stares.)

Father, look at the red stars

(brushing and brushing. eventually, she seeing all her hair in the brush's teeth; stops, gathers it all in her fist, then places it, ceremoniously, in ashtray, and lights it on fire with a match.

it burns fast, then smokes, she sniffs as if remembering something.)


Don't point don't look don't think don't feel the cold in your toes anymore, the holes in your socks, boiled grass wadded in your bloated stomach, clumped like a stone, cold and plummeting, nights shrinking days the waiting and frozen waking in darkness and snow warm to numb limb, tanks, Russian, numb, scarring the rice fields that autumn, Father, numb, searing wind with black singe, communism in the nostrils



Things stick to pricks inside you, Mother always said

(picks up curling iron, fingers iron part, pulls away quickly, then grasps the metal in her hand, holding it around the metal, drawing it closely to her face as if about to also burn out her eyeballs. reads:)

Made in ... Taiwan

(hurls inoperative curling iron across the room.)



Stupid girl. Because what would I know in France, what will I ever know, do, where would I go, music like the teeth of some foreign animal swimming through the wet filthy air


K, in robe and sunflower hat, picking through wardrobe. holds dress after dress up to her, looking front before "mirror," then throwing down again, until she finally holds an old, absurdly small navy blue schoolgirl uniform.

K Mencius, Confucius, xingshan, human nature is good, xing'e, human nature is bad, de, viture, jing, revere, ming, fate, ming, decree, just because you have never read, don't push that on me, I love to read, classics, my favorite, Mencius, your grandfather was a teacher, history, I love to read, such dim eyes, your grandfather the teacher, stony old brow, he taught me something, history, every Sunday, in the wine house, through the winter especially, by the fire, he tested me, always an excellent memory, I had, always the best, always winning peanuts, baisse, a declining price trend, baissier, a bear operator in the market, always the best and most peanuts, his favorite of the bunch, allotment letter, a successful applicant for a new—

(pause. takes another dress.)

What to do with a girl like that, so selfish, a dancer, what kind of dancer, I don't know exactly, one who breaks things no doubt, since she was little, always running about, limbs flaying, never a sound from her mouth though, so odd and morose really, what's wrong with you daughter, I don't know, maybe the American in her, freckles on chin and shoulders, what's wrong with her, I don't know, always breaking things, by just looking at them, picture frames falling, metal cups, spilt her first milk, and such vast wild dances

(stops, takes another dress.)

Grandmother's crane vase, passed down from a grand- aunt, from the north, jadestone, fifteen white cranes, flying where? how could you, where were you running past a wind blur, there's nowhere to want to go that fast, such an unmagical orchid sometimes, not clumsy, uncaring, wild, like a soldier, where were you going so fast to not here or there

Not anywhere

(another dress.)

A lesson then, for punishment: giving over something valuable back, yes, in your room, no not a matchbook, no, not nothing, something, give me something back that you took from me, yes, you, one thing, as a lesson not to forget, something as valuable as grandma's vase, now in pieces, each shard a generation, no, not your jump rope, something more, like that transistor yes the one on your nightstand there, go get it, right now, such an unmagical orchid, how unmagical, no indeed, giving it here right now, RIGHT NOW!!!

(another dress.)

Transistor to the floor, smashed, they'll be other birthdays, next to grandmother's vase, in pieces still, big fat tears, how does it feel, to lose something you cherished, how does it feel?, broken to bits inside itself, jagged edges sticky against darkening clouds

(another dress.)

Won't be running around in here again, will we, no reply, I said we won't run around here again now, will we, trembling lids, floating head, ANSWER ME!!!

(rips dress.)

Crazy girl, it's only a transistor, what's got into you, a cheap transistor, look at the vase, in pieces, broken, memories, and grandmother, her smile, and teeth, broken, her eyes, smashed, with cranes on it, what's left, in a heap, shards, go wash your eyes out, with cool water, not cold or hot, crazy girl, all for a cheap transistor, aren't you ashamed, won't be running past here again, limbs flailing, silent sniveling now, all for a cheap transistor, sulking for an hour, crazy girl, all for a cheap

(white dress. beat.)

Voulez-vous du thé?

nothing like ours, no doubt, no doubt nothing like our tea, too sweet, like all Westerners, creamy and sweet instead of clear green, barley, and the cakes, good flour, much less starch, and sugar, no lard, I wonder, having read of tea, a recent hobby, tea, not reading, of course, I've always read, oh yes, in the evenings, what does anyone do, work, read, study, languages, English, French, Investing, what does anyone do, stocks, for the future, part game, for the stomach, toughens it up, the stock market, up and coming, pacific rim, seven tigers, acid test ratio, the current assets of a company, Hanjin up one and a quarter, Kepco down two, and I read, a great deal now, more and more, it comes with age I suppose, buried habits, surfacing, dead bodies in lakes, first loves, to read, and study, before the war, before you were born, before the fabric mill, if you would have known me then, singing in school, a choir of girls, even acted a little, on stage, which helped me, really, a great deal in life, out there, acting, singing too but not as much, more ... while bathing mainly, by the river

(trying different pair of shoes, a different scarf.)

No going back, not after that, no, no going back to that, caught, in the fields, after that no going back, on his farm, after the festival, autumn, squash porridge, what was his name, a farmer, much older, from the wine house, wife a tubercular, fat sisters, faint mustache and ... eyes, wide set

Because I love you, he said


Excerpted from SEVEN CONTEMPORARY PLAYS FROM THE KOREAN DIASPORA IN THE AMERICAS Copyright © 2012 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction xi

History K Edward Bok Lee 1

99 Histories Julia Cho 21

American Hwangap Lloyd Suh 85

Hongbu and Nolbu: The Tale of the Magic Pumpkins Jean Yoon 151

Yi Sang Counts to Thirteen Sung Rno 195

Satellites Diana Son 247

Mina Kyoung H. Park 321

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