A play as saturated with absurdist humor, dance numbers, and Lady Gaga references as "Walkabout Yeolha" is hard to find. The play, presented by Columbia Stages—a part of the Columbia School of the Arts that showcases graduate student theater productions—runs this weekend. "Walkabout Yeolha" is set in a post-industrial, make-believe world, and grapples with issues of globalization, neo-liberalism, and culture clash. It is an example of how Columbia Stages is giving students the chance to gain experience outside of the classroom while sharing their areas of theater expertise with the larger Columbia University community. "I'd say that dual mission—education and public—has always been an important aspect of these productions," said Ian Klein, the marketing director of Columbia Stages. The institution presents thesis productions by directors, actors, and playwrights in their last year of MFA Theatre Arts training during its main stage season. Although the organization was only branded Columbia Stages in 2004, these productions have been a longstanding curricular requirement to allow MFA students to graduate. With "Walkabout Yeolha," Columbia Stages allows SoA students to transform their extensive training into tangible products. The play is directed by Kon Yi, SoA '11, and translated by Walter Byongsok Chon and Kyoung Park SoA '12, who adapted the play from a 2007 Korean production titled "Inching Toward Yeolha." The plot revolves around the insular village of Yeolha. A conflict begins when an outsider arrives and challenges the villagers' self-enforced isolation. Walking a fine line between pathos and comedic absurdity, the play presents weighty issues in an accessible manner. "I think this conceptualization of the play is a metaphor for the multi-cultural, post-industrial world we live in," Park said, "whether we live in New York or Seoul." As Park demonstrates, the major theme of the play resonates beyond the Columbia community. Park drastically re-worked the play's 2007 version to achieve a more conflict-driven plot that he thought would be more appealing to American audiences. The adapted play also departs notably from the quite sexist original production. "I decided to explode the misogyny and sexism," Park said. His changes complemented director Kon Yi's decision to cast women in several leading, powerful roles. "Walkabout Yeolha" is part of Columbia Stages new effort to draw more students to the organization's shows. "We really want to get the word out," Klein said. "Columbia Stages productions are free to anyone with any college ID, and free theater in New York should be classed a hot commodity."
Columbia Spectator Staff