The Granite Tower
Sing, and Bury the Hatred
Lee Hye Jin  |
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승인 2015.11.11  14:29:33
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn
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Remember Whiplash, a breathtaking movie about a genius wannabe and a madman teacher? The story of two completely different characters attempting harmony has been one of the favorite themes in plays and movies. In all those stories, the one and the only key to overcoming the crevice was honest, down-to-earth communication. Talking is the first step toward knowing each other, with words as a loyal medium. Yet putting one’s true self into words is hard. When words stumble, what can be a substitute? The two men from Old Wicked Songs reply, “Music."

Old Wicked Songs is the dramatist Jon Marans’ play, which celebrates the 25th anniversary since its premiere in 1995. It has been receiving steady acclaim from various media sources and critics, its fine quality proven by a nomination of the Pulitzer Prize and by winning the L.A. Drama Logue Award. In Korea, it was first introduced in September this year. Ranking as the fifth most searched play in the performance reservation website Playdb, Old Wicked Songs seems to have captured the attention of audiences in Korea.

▲ Actor Park Jeong Bok for the role of Stephen. Photographed by Lee So Young.
The most notable feature of this play is that it is a two-character play. The two men, Josef Mashkan and Stephen Hoffman, are the only characters on the stage. Matching with the small number of characters, the stage of Old Wicked Songs is set on a small scale, displaying a quaint little room. The background remains still and simple throughout the play—two men, a piano, and a sofa. Perhaps some people who expect a dramatic, grand-scale performance would gasp at this simplicity, but this is where the greatness of this play lies.
Stephen, a talented pianist, is an egocentric young man. He begins to have lessons with Maschkan, an eccentric music professor who teaches vocal music. Starting from the sharp-tempered criticism of Stephen pointing out the mistake of Maschkan’s piano accompaniment, their meeting seems uncomfortable. As he enters and leaves Maschkan’s quaint room, Stephen continues to have big and small quarrels with his new professor. They talk about Maschkan’s mistakes during piano performance and Stephen’s lacking vocals, criticizing each other. The egocentric Stephen brags about himself and closes his ears to advice. The eccentric Mashkan attacks the most sensitive parts of his student. Their edgy encounter leaves no room for boredom.
A charming point of the play, as its poster of piano keys imply, is the sound track. Following the storyline of two men studying music, the play overall features a familiar classical music score. Amidst the grand maestros, the choice of Old Wicked Songs was Schuman. Marans, who used to study Schuman’s song cycle “Die alten bosen Lieder (A Poet’s Love)” in Vienna, quoted that it is “infused with a young man’s anger and passion.” Drawing in the bittersweet story of a fervent and frustrated hero, this creates a parallel with the young Stephen in the play.
▲ Actor Song Young Chang for the role of Mashkan. Photographed by Lee So Young.
Die alten bosen Lieder” is not only the song Maschkan teaches to Stephen, but also the background music of the play. As the scene changes and lights are turned on and off, the song cycle comes and goes through multitude expressions—some pieces light and amusing, while others fierce and desperate—according to the ambience of the scenes. With a complex of major and minor chords, the melody of “Die alten bosen Lieder” boasts its painstaking beauty throughout the play.
As the play only features two characters, the roles of actors were significant in the development of the play. Needless to say, the actors’ contributions were critical for the success of the play from the beginning to the finishing touches. In Korea actors Song Young Chang and Kim Sae Dong were double-casted for the role of Maschkan. Kim Jae Beom, Park Jeong Bok, Lee Chang Young and Cho Kang Hyun played Stephen. The veteran and versatile plays of Maschkan and passionate Stephen were mixed adroitly into an alluring harmony, drawing several well-received comments from the critics and public alike.
▲ Stephen and Mashkan singing “Die alten bosen Lieder” in duet. Photographed by Lee So Young.
The play covers even broader themes as well. Confessing that he is Jewish, Stephen fervently talks about the hardships his companions suffered. His deep wounds from the harsh stares of society pull the audience into the dark topic of discrimination. His confession also implies a gradual lessening of the gap between the two characters, thus breaking the walls of bias and heading them toward frankness. No longer criticizing each other’s blind spots, the two instead share their deepest secrets. Standing human to human, their attempts to understand each other develop with the crescendo of Schuman’s sonata.
Shoulder to shoulder, the once hateful stares between Maschkan and Stephen became joy as they sing together Schuman’s beloved song cycle “Die alten bosen Lieder.” Wicked as it is, the powerful music held between them overwhelmed their discrepancies. At first encounter, their songs were melodies of dischord, from the dissatisfaction of oneself to the bottomless chaos of discrimination. Yet the key revealed itself in the two men’s perky duet—communication and understanding. As they shed away the barriers, the two became one in those old wicked songs. Old Wicked Songs summarizes this most cliché lesson into one mesmerizing story.
▲ Stephen and Mashkan singing “Die alten bosen Lieder” in duet. Photographed by Lee So Young.

Performance Information

Date: September 8 to November 22

Venue: DCF Daemyung Culture Factory

Running Time: 140 min (includes 15 intermission)

Ticket Price:  R seat 38,500 won,  S seat 24,500 won  (1+1 event available for certain rated seats in limited number)

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