옹녀-A Pansori for the Adult

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Oh where to begin…

I guess it goes back to a couple of months ago, when the four of us (Me, Mary, Johnny, and Brady) went to see a traditional dance performance because Johnny’s host mom was in it. It was a fantastic visual and aural experience, so when Mary found a “traditional Korean opera” a few weeks ago, we all excited to go.

The show was on Thursday, which means we go to school in the morning and Hongdae in the afternoon for Korean class. With no time to change, we showed up wearing our school uniforms. We got our tickets, which Mary had bought online with a STUDENT discount, found our seats, and got ready to be cultured.

And cultured we became.

Looking back the first red flag was the modern drum set in the pit. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, but if this was supposed to be traditional Korean opera, would they have those kind of drums? There were screens on the side (used for English subtitles for the whole thing and Korean for the parts with singing). Anyway, the show started out with 옹녀, sitting in the middle of the stage, speaking a monologue. She described how men would sing of her beauty, but that she was cursed to be a widow forever. As she described her past husbands, their coffins were rolled out behind her. 

The second red flag was when she described her second husband. “He had bad breath, and he couldn’t get it up, but he died anyway.”

A short while later, we were bombarded with descriptive figurative language, adjectives, and nouns (i.e. jade gate), and censored skin colored images on the screen onstage. There were horny grandmas, horny totem poles, horny everything, and because we were not expecting this, we all kind of turned and looked at Mary. 

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The second half had less sex and more funny, however, so I personally found it more enjoyable. (The first half was hilarious too, and getting past the initial shock, I really liked it.) There was one point were 옹녀’s mother tells her to not care about the gods, to seek revenge (Long story short: 옹녀’s new husband 변강쇠 had gone to chop down wood, but chopped down a sacred totem pole instead, got a million diseases, died, and turned into a totem pole. 옹녀 wants him back) and the mom flips the entire audience off. 옹녀 joins in, and the screen in the back starts showing floating hands that keep flipping everyone off to the beat of the poppy song playing in the background. 

My favorite parts were the scenes with the Totem poles and the scene with the women doctors. The Totem poles were just adorable, and their dancing scenes were entertaining. When the women doctors arrived to try to cure 변강쇠, they came in wearing sunglasses while shaking their hips to the bouncy beat. I also could imagine their part being the hardest to learn and memorize because they just sung lists of all of these herbs and roots that failed to cure 변강쇠. It was really impressive that they could memorize all of those in order…

Overall, putting the initial shock aside, it was a funny and honestly an enjoyable show. 

 (I just felt uncomfortable wearing my high school uniform there.)

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