New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Asian

"Comfort Women"
Urban Stages at 259 W. 30th St., Manhattan

Man's inhumanity to man-or, in this case, man's inhumanity to woman-is not new to our history. But each new blatant example still comes as a shocking revelation. In this case, Korean-born playwright Chungmi Kim has focused on the country of her birth and the Korean women's experiences during World War II.

It seems that about 200,000 young women (some as young as 12 years of age) were abducted or conscripted by the Japanese as sex slaves for the military. The term "comfort women," as they were known, is an ironic label. They were brutalized, tortured, infected, and, in general, considered as negligible property. The soldiers took better care of their weapons and gear. The women who managed to survive returned to their own country after the war, only to be treated there as outcasts, scorned by their own society.

How have these survivors dealt with their legacy? Chungmi Kim, setting her play in past and present, centers her drama around the conflicting ways these women have coped with the unspeakable. While some are openly angry, and eager to protest, to bear witness, others choose to bury the past. It is 1994, and protest time at the UN, when a young Korean NYU student, a political activist, brings two of the "comfort women" to meet her grandmother. But this woman wants no part of the protest or the women. It gradually becomes clear that she is hiding her own dark secret.

Though the play tends to be repetitious and over-long, it moves hauntingly between past and present, mounted most effectively on two levels. Under the skilled direction of Frances Hill, the five actresses-Tina Chen, Haerry Kim, Ji-young Kim, Jade Wu, and Jo Yang-shape the material into a powerful story which stabs like the thrust of a knife.

-- Irene Backalenick
Nov. 21, 2004

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