Where else but at the legendary La Mama Experimental Theatre Club celebrating its 48th season can you see a production of two short stories by Chekhov – The Doctor and A Joke adapted into a chamber opera and musical respectively by a Korean, Byungkoo Ahn, which are gorgeously sung in English and Korean – some translations provided – beautifully and simply designed by Jose Ho (stark and crisp) and stylishly acted by actors from Taiwan and Korea.
Experiments are good. Both for the writers and performers and for those of us anxious to see new material written for the musical stage.
In The Doctor, music by Martin Herman – libretto by T.F. Curley we have a young boy (Sook In Em) bedridden, under the care of a doctor (Young Jun Chai) who has had some kind of relationship with Olga, the mother (In Suk Kim). Is the child his? Will the child die of the brain tumor? Will truth prevail? It’s a fascinating piece. Pensive and haunting. Not always easy to listen to. It is a complicated score to sing and little melody for the listener to grasp onto. But always interesting. Sometimes very hard to understand the words especially when all three are singing simultaneously – although there are certain phrases that are repeated so that I got the gist of the story.
After the performance I requested a copy of the libretto which director, Byungkoo Ahn quickly supplied. Within seconds there were three for me to read. I have to say that I missed very little but it was a difficult journey.
A more pleasurable journey was the second piece – A Joke. Music by Young Hoon Lee (regarded as the father of the popular Korean love song) with additional material by Hee Sun Hailey Chang.
The story of a young man (Steven Sun) remembering his first love Nadenka (Mi Sun Choi) when they went tobogganing down a hill and while the wind rushed by and she screamed in fear he tells her “I love you, Nadenka.” It’s a beautiful, lyrical and poignant piece. Much more accessible. With translations of the three lovely songs provided in the program. Did she hear him whisper those beautiful words in her ear or was it only the wind?
The silhouetted forest as she sings Memories Are Sadder than Love is a piece of art. As are the songs. Accompanied on piano (Hee Sun Hailey Chang) and cello (Jeremy Lamb). Very fine musicians. Very fine production.
Through October 4th. Tickets $25.00 Approximately one hour long.