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South Korea 'goose father' finds solace with defector in N.Y. play

By Elizabeth Shim
South Korea 'goose father' finds solace with defector in N.Y. play
Michelle Krusiec (L) and Peter Kim (R) in rehearsal for "Wild Goose Dreams" by Hansol Jung and directed by Leigh Silverman at the Public Theater in New York. Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus/The Public Theater

NEW YORK, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- A lonely South Korean man and a North Korean woman find solace in each other in a new play at New York's Public Theater that draws unexpected parallels between people of different backgrounds.

Wild Goose Dreams, written by Hansol Jung and directed by Leigh Silverman, is a vivid microcosm of the divided Koreas. It's also a candid appraisal of technology and its impact on human loneliness.

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The story, set in contemporary South Korea, as well as in North Korea and the United States, follows the travails of a South Korean "goose father," Minsung, whose wife and daughter are in America for the sake of education, as he toils to make a paycheck. The money he makes is sent to his family, while he lives a bare-bones existence in a tiny rented room in Seoul.

Minsung is a fictional character, but his predicament is hardly fiction, the play's cast and crew tell UPI.

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In the past two decades, more South Korean families have become separated geographically so children can learn English and hopefully attend reputable universities in the West.

"My cousin is actually a goose father. His wife and his two kids were in the States, and he was in Korea trying to start and run a business," said actor Peter Kim. "It's a very difficult existence, I would imagine."

Kim, who plays Minsung and is Korean American, said the play struck a chord with him as the son of Korean immigrants.

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"The thing the play does so well in a very creative and theatrical, inventive way, it talks about loneliness but also about what it feels like to straddle two worlds," Kim said. "I think about my parents, who came to the States in the late '60s, a lot."

Jung, who wrote the play immediately after graduating from the Yale School of Drama, said the balancing act is an everyday reality for people like herself: born and raised in South Korea, then immigrating to the United States as an adult to fulfill her career goals.

"The question of aspirations and roots, and just really overall a kind of homesickness, informed a lot of what the play became," Jung said, adding she had struggled with choices -- to stay in the United States, or resume a career back in Seoul. "Other things have become more valuable in our society than keeping close to the people you love."

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Play depicts defector's aspirations

Nanhee, the North Korean defector and Minsung's love interest in the play, appears to be driven by aspirations, as well.

The North Korean woman is haunted by guilt, having left North Korea not out of necessity but to make money in the capitalist South. For her decision she pays an emotional price -- in some scenes she imagines her father's torture and execution at the hands of North Korean authorities.

She meets Minsung through an online dating service, with technology driving all relationships in the plot -- often times driving them apart.

Jung said she spoke to defectors to create Nanhee's character.

"I was actually very cautious of my own bias," the playwright said, adding she read North Korean defector Jang Jin-sung's memoir, Dear Leader, to familiarize herself with the secretive regime.

Kim said Nanhee's character shows the different traits of North and South Koreans.

"Nanhee's character is so much stronger, she knows how to survive," Kim said. "She chooses to live in the face of incredible adversity. Minsung doesn't have the survival skills."

Despite their differences, striking similarities do emerge, as Minsung copes with infidelity, both his and his distant wife's, and Nanhee struggles with a dishonest broker in China who she had trusted to wire money to her North Korean family.

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Jung said the play allowed her to reflect on the situation on the Korean Peninsula -- particularly on the ups and downs of engagement with North Korea.

She likened the roller-coaster relations to "schizophrenia" as each South Korean administration since former President Kim Dae-jung has handled the North in disparate ways.

"Every time it's a different story. Yes it's going well, or no, they're bombing us," Jung said. "But I'm really glad we're trying and South Korea is trying to reach out and talk, instead of talking to other countries about which weapons to buy."

Kim said the play is "very funny and moving, with a ton of music," but with a solemn message at its core.

"The play for me is full of heartbreak," Kim said. "It's a metaphor for what it feels like to be Korean sometimes, because we have cultural baggage. Our country is divided."

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