A busy semester is taking over my life. The shift key on my laptop sometimes doesn’t work. My phone loses charge like crazy. When things are falling apart, one world that I can escape to is that of a script. Picking up from where I left off over a month ago, here’s the romantic, eerie, and oddly compelling This Isn’t Romance by In-Sook Chappell.
This Isn’t Romance by In-Sook Chappell premiered on 12 February 2009 at London’s Soho Theatre.
- Miso Blake – a Korean-born model living in London.
- Han-Som Kim – her brother, living in Korea
- Miss Lee – a translator
- Naomi – a modeling agent
- Jack Cash – a British hotel owner
- Waitress at Cat Cafe/Bunny/Nurse
Present day, Seoul, South Korea. Miso Blake has returned to Korea to reunite with her brother Han-Som, who she abandoned when they were orphaned as children. At first, the siblings reject each other. While attempting to repair their relationship, Miso has some unfortunate luck, and what can only be imagined as old habits and patterns start to emerge, with sex, money, and conflict between the siblings and others in their world leading them to a bizarre new start.
Initially, I thought it was one type of play, then another, then another…but what is interesting about it is that all of the characters are unpredictable. Miso, while Westernized, unable to understand Korean, and hating herself, seems to subvert the stages of culture shock to quickly adapt (albeit awkwardly) to Seoul as if she hadn’t left and grown up in England. Han, initially lost in translation, becomes desirable and romantic to her, both her adversary, angry at her for leaving him, and her defender, driving her around and standing up for her against Jack Cash (because of course that is what the rich white man’s name is). There is something very hard to grasp about the play, as if it’s written from an insider’s and an outsider’s perspective at the same time. It’s a mix of The God of Small Things and Bonnie and Clyde.
Lost in Translation
After the initial scene, in which both Miso and Han get frustrated at the clueless translator Miss Lee, you’d think that the play would go nowhere since the two main characters do not even speak the other’s language. Even though we learn that Han does speak English, there are still the barriers between them, but at the same time, a relationship that emerges. This relationship translates interestingly on the stage, straddling the lines between Western sibling relationships, Korean sibling relationships, and incest. Although there are a few kisses, some touching, and implied sexual actions between the brother and sister, to me, there’s no definitive proof that the relationship goes any further than holding each other. At one point, one of them says “let’s not mention this” which means that something taboo might have happened, but it’s never overwhelmingly obvious, just two adults who happen to be related, seeing each other as adults for the first time and naturally somewhat curious. This can translate to incest, but considering the distance and the cultural relationships, it could be that they are communicating in their own language.
On the Run
Outside of the brother/sister love storyline, this play contains a lot of mysterious running. Miso clearly isn’t just in Seoul to find her brother, it is clear that she is there to stay, escaping something in London. Perhaps losing her money and having her credit card declined is a coincidence, or perhaps it is of her own doing, to erase her recent past. When Miso and Han are in Han’s apartment, they hear angry sounds from the hallway, and Han explains that he is in trouble as well, possibly with the mafia or people trying to hurt him. In the end, when Miso and Han escape from the Bunny Club after fighting with Jack and Bunny, it’s reminiscent of their origin story, which Miso remembers and relates to her brother, of how they were born on the island of Cheju-do, and ran away after being orphaned because the townspeople considered them to be unlucky. Even if they run from each other, as Miso did when she ended up adopted and living in England, their past is one thing that they continually seem to be running from. They are attempting to run back towards it, by reliving their childhood memories, but they can’t go back. In the final scene, it’s clear that Miso’s realization of this fact landed her in the hospital, and Han’s reassuring words in the final moments prove that he is still hoping for things to return to the way they once were, reminiscing of home and youth, still believing in something that will never happen.
How I’d Flip It
This play would be very difficult to stage, I think, and I can’t even imagine, at least right now, a picture of it in my mind. It seems more like a short film than a play. The scenes shit dramatically, from a hotel cafe, to a modeling agency, to Han’s apartment, to the Bunny Club, to a hospital. All in all, it’s a script woven together with a dense cultural coating, and I would be content to sit this one out and see what someone who is more familiar with Korean culture could do.