A boy in a white hospital gown walks up and down the room. A psychiatrist tries to elicit the truth from the reluctant boy. A worried nurse comes in and out of the room, constantly checking the boy’s state. Every event happens within a single room, a single set—every scene is composed of a conversation between the three people. In light of this fact, the play Elephant Song seems quite a dull one—however, as soon as the play starts, the audience is magically drawn into the world of the three actors. Clue after clue is revealed, developing into a huge heart-aching story of a wounded boy.
▲ Michael (Jeon Seong Woo) with Anthony during press call. Provided by newsculture.tv.
"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The first sentence of the book Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy talks of the universal truth about families. There are so many ways that a family can be broke, whether the problem is to do with a family member or the environment itself. For one, a family is inevitably unhappy when family members never expected to become a family in the first place. And often in these cases, it is the child that is affected the most—a young, innocent being that has to endure every environmental fault—yet the society never has the capability to embrace his or her wounds. The play Elephant Song sings about Michael, a wounded boy of an unhappy family, left alone in the world with an elephant friend.
Elephant Song was originally on stage in 2004 in Canada. The main story of the play was written by the Molière Award-nominated playwright Nicolas Billon. After receiving much attention, the play was also put on stage in the United States, France, Canada, and finally Korea. In respect to the great work, each line was carefully translated and the main theme song “elephant song” was smoothly retouched, making the play more attractive for Korean audiences. Because the play entered Korea after the screening of Zavier Dolan’s film adaptation, its first staging received popular attention from Korean audiences.
By popular demands, the play came back again as an encore after its first performance in 2015. This time, it is with a bigger stage, better creative team, and improved sounds with a new “elephant song.” The name value of the play itself and the ticket power of the famous main actors have drawn quite an audience even in the encore performance. It is not hard to see long lines of fans trying to see the actors leaving, lining up outside the building as soon as the play finishes.
The play starts with the Lawrence’s disappearance, the psychiatrist in charge of Michael. The director of the hospital, Greenberg, visits the hospital to find out why he is missing. Since Michael was the last person to see Lawrence, he starts to talk to him—although Michael is reluctant to tell the truth right away. He is a boy who likes to play games, just as Peterson the nurse warns Greenburg. In return for giving clues about where Lawrence went, Michael sets several conditions for his game: to not read the purple patient book, to give him three chocolates, and to let Peterson out of the game.
T he g ame g oes on, and the play changes its genre several times according to the story that Michael tells Greenburg about. Michael and Greenburg play a ping pong game of demands to acquire what they want— although the ping pong game itself becomes more important during the talks. Peterson, a motherly figure, tries to intervene in the situation after sensing Michael’s strangeness, but fails. At last the play explodes its energy through Michael’s narrative about the elephant, his unhappy family, and his wounds. Michael sings the elephant song to the audience, the only hint of love he felt from his workaholic mother.
A person without proper experience of love perceives even small hints of love as a painful experience, especially when they have no chance of receiving it again. Especially when it is a child who is deprived of proper love and care by mother and father, the ripple that it causes is immense. For Michael, love is also a death. Love was taken away from him as soon as it was given. The two deaths that he experiences, one of an elephant and one of his mother, are thus parallel but at the same time crisscrossing. Michael only felt a pinch of his mother’s love via the tragic death of an elephant, but lost it forever after the tragic death of his mother.
Michael cries out, “Never give a child a hope for love when you cannot give plenty!” It is not that he never tried to compensate his internal emptiness through love of someone else. Although Michael eagerly tries to receive parental love from Lawrence and Peterson like a child, he eventually concludes that they cannot become a substitute for what he had lost long ago. This is where his conditions for the game reveal the final truth.
Although the plot is made to be dramatic, the main idea itself that the Elephant Song delivers is a very general theme that many can agree on. Smiling and crying, sometimes gasping, audiences follow the delicate line of emotions that the main characters convey. Everyone has an unresolved wish of an inner child in their minds. This is probably why this illusionary yet realistic plot moves audiences. The appropriate use of opera music and the elephant song maximizes its strength. As the curtain comes down, one finds oneself sitting in the middle of the weeping crowd.
A child solemnly singing the elephant song as a farewell to his dying mother, a mother completely selfish till the last moment, and a dying elephant in front of a child—these are the few images that the audience will carry for at least some time after seeing this play. The echo that the Elephant Song can bring to a person is boundless. Sing the elephant song, for Michael, and for yourself.
Performance Information Place : Daemyung Culture Factory (DCF), Theatre 1 Running Time : 90 minutes Date : April 22, 2016 – June 26, 2016 Ticket Price : 35,000 won - 55,000 won (Student discount 40 percent possible) Main Actors : Park Eun Suk, Jeong Eun Young, Jeon Seong Woo, Lee Seok Jun, Ko Young Bin
▲ Greenburg (Lee Seok Joon) is attentively listening to an opera. Provided by mnewsculture.heraldcorp.com.