South Korea 'goose father' finds solace with defector in N.Y. play

A lonely South Korean man and a North Korean woman find solace in each
other in a new play at New York's Public Theater that draws unexpected
parallels between people of different backgrounds.

Wild Goose Dreams, written by Hansol Jung and directed by Leigh
Silverman, is a vivid microcosm of the divided Koreas. It's also a
candid appraisal of technology and its impact on human loneliness.

The story, set in contemporary South Korea, as well as in North Korea
and the United States, follows the travails of a South Korean "goose
father," Minsung, whose wife and daughter are in America for the sake of
education, as he toils to make a paycheck. The money he makes is sent
to his family, while he lives a bare-bones existence in a tiny rented
room in Seoul.

Minsung is a fictional character, but his predicament is hardly fiction, the play's cast and crew tell UPI.

In the past two decades, more South Korean families have become
separated geographically so children can learn English and hopefully
attend reputable universities in the West.

"My cousin is actually a goose father. His wife and his two kids were in
the States, and he was in Korea trying to start and run a business,"
said actor Peter Kim. "It's a very difficult existence, I would

Kim, who plays Minsung and is Korean American, said the play struck a chord with him as the son of Korean immigrants.

"The thing the play does so well in a very creative and theatrical,
inventive way, it talks about loneliness but also about what it feels
like to straddle two worlds," Kim said. "I think about my parents, who
came to the States in the late '60s, a lot."

Jung, who wrote the play immediately after graduating from the Yale
School of Drama, said the balancing act is an everyday reality for
people like herself: born and raised in South Korea, then immigrating to
the United States as an adult to fulfill her career goals.

"The question of aspirations and roots, and just really overall a kind
of homesickness, informed a lot of what the play became," Jung said,
adding she had struggled with choices -- to stay in the United States,
or resume a career back in Seoul. "Other things have become more
valuable in our society than keeping close to the people you love."

Play depicts defector's aspirations

Nanhee, the North Korean defector and Minsung's love interest in the play, appears to be driven by aspirations, as well.

The North Korean woman is haunted by guilt, having left North Korea not
out of necessity but to make money in the capitalist South. For her
decision she pays an emotional price -- in some scenes she imagines her
father's torture and execution at the hands of North Korean authorities.

She meets Minsung through an online dating service, with technology
driving all relationships in the plot -- often times driving them apart.

Jung said she spoke to defectors to create Nanhee's character.

"I was actually very cautious of my own bias," the playwright said,
adding she read North Korean defector Jang Jin-sung's memoir, Dear
Leader, to familiarize herself with the secretive regime.

Kim said Nanhee's character shows the different traits of North and South Koreans.

"Nanhee's character is so much stronger, she knows how to survive," Kim
said. "She chooses to live in the face of incredible adversity. Minsung
doesn't have the survival skills."

Despite their differences, striking similarities do emerge, as Minsung
copes with infidelity, both his and his distant wife's, and Nanhee
struggles with a dishonest broker in China who she had trusted to wire
money to her North Korean family.

Jung said the play allowed her to reflect on the situation on the Korean
Peninsula -- particularly on the ups and downs of engagement with North

She likened the roller-coaster relations to "schizophrenia" as each
South Korean administration since former President Kim Dae-jung has
handled the North in disparate ways.

"Every time it's a different story. Yes it's going well, or no, they're
bombing us," Jung said. "But I'm really glad we're trying and South
Korea is trying to reach out and talk, instead of talking to other
countries about which weapons to buy."

Kim said the play is "very funny and moving, with a ton of music," but with a solemn message at its core.

"The play for me is full of heartbreak," Kim said. "It's a metaphor for
what it feels like to be Korean sometimes, because we have cultural
baggage. Our country is divided."

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