A single woman living on her own gets robbed at the hands of a stranger in her tiny apartment. This is the plot of the play The Awkward People, written by Jang Jin who is better known as a movie director. Sounds like a spine-chilling thriller or a blood-gurgling horror story? Do not jump to conclusions just yet, because The Awkward People is actually a comedy about the story of our lives—our awkward selves that we all desperately want to hide behind a fake smile.
To give a little background about the play, The Awkward People first kicked off back in 2007 and has been running ever since then. It has featured several high-profile actors such as Oh Jong Hyuk and Kim Seul Gi in the past, and was chosen as the best play in the Golden Ticket Awards held by InterPark in 2012. Even after six years since its first showing, the play is still going strong, being enjoyed by many theatergoers and receiving favorable reviews.
▲ The poster of The Awkward People. Provided by Interpark.
The story goes like this. A 26-year-old middle school teacher named Hwa Yi is faced with a very unlikely predicament one night. Just as she gets ready for bed, someone turns the doorknob, trying to break into her apartment. Soon, a suspicious-looking man dressed in khaki barges in, complaining about the unlocked door. This thief, named Duk Bae, then threatens Hwa Yi with a knife, and she is babbling all the while, terrified with fear.
Nevertheless, the play suddenly takes an unlikely turn and the two characters start to bond, as they gradually get to know each other. Every now and then, different characters, such as a suicidal man and a stalker, interrupt their weird night, but their feelings for each other only get stronger through these disruptions. Indeed, the story sounds rather cheesy, but it is the solid chemistry between the actors and their acting that adds sparkle to what could easily turn out to be a cliché.
As the title The Awkward People implies, all of the characters the epitomes of social awkardness. Despite the nature of his occupation, Duk Bae is nothing like a thief; he is so caring and thoughtful that he feels sorry for Hwa Yi, who is barely able to make ends meet and owns nothing worth stealing. They may be adults in age, but it almost appears as if they are still children on the inside, without much tact and finesse in dealing with people. That being said, once they take a liking to someone, they are not afraid to express their feelings and wear their hearts on their sleeves, which leads to the budding of an unlikely relationship in the unlikeliest of places.
Such clumsiness stands in a stark contrast with how grown-ups are expected to behave in today’s increasingly isolated and individualistic society. They may be smooth talkers and are trained in the art of putting on a fake smile, but they are hesitant, and even awkward, when showing their inner feelings. Relationships are seen as a game, in which hiding one’s emotions and playing it cool are the winning strategies. In contrast, Duk Bae and Hwa Yi defy this unfortunate formula that has become a fixture in our lives, demonstrating that there is another way to build genuine relationships.
▲ Haw Yi. Provided by raon-ato.com.
Another element that reinforces this feeling of intimacy is the choice of venue. With just 186 seats, the small size of COEX Art Hall seems to be a perfect fit for the heart-warming story that is accompanied by the cozy atmosphere of Hwa Yi’s apartment. Though there is no direct interaction between the actors and the audience, the close proximity to the stage allows the audience to capture everything on the stage, right down to the smallest details in the actors’ facial expressions and body languages.
Granted, The Awkward People may not equal other top-notch plays that juggle around heavier themes with intricate storylines. Its plot and characters are exaggerated and unrealistic, which is how a good comedy should be. Its allure lies in just how mundane and simple everything is. Ranging from the setting in a cramped apartment that represents our everyday lives to the actors’ ordinary appearances, there is nothing flashy and sophisticated about the play. In fact, it almost gives the impression of watching a scene from Korean sketch comedy shows, such as Gag Concert or Comedy Big League, making the audience feel right at home.
In that sense, The Awkward People is essentially has much more to do with our lives than one would assume at first glance; whether it is awkward encounters with strangers or clumsy mistakes, we have all been there and many of us still struggle with it. Yet, these kinds of blunders are what make us humans, warts and all. This play thus serves as a humorous reminder that tells the audience to embrace their awkward and clumsy selves, instead of denying them as if they never existed.