Two weekends ago I went to see a benefit performance of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues performed by some of the women of the Seoul Players theatre company. All of the proceeds of the show were generously donated to V-Day Seoul, Korean Unwed Mothers and Families Association, and Seoul Survivors Services, great programs that provide essential care and support to women and children in Korea. The performance was held at Art Center K, a dark but quaint theatre a few blocks from the Hyewha Subway Station (Line 4, Exit 1). I rather liked the theatre for this event in particular– it was intimate in that it was a small building and the seating was built in such a way as to allow for closeness in proximity to the other members of the audience. The black walls, red curtains, and tight space took the audience in as though it were a womb– and I am sure that this was intentional. Vagina lollipops, “Say It” buttons, and red and white Franzia were sold near the ticket “box office,” helping to loosen up the pockets and diaphragms of all that came to enjoy the performance. And enjoy it we all did.
I’m sure that many of you have already seen the Vagina Monologues performed or at the very least have heard about it from your friends or colleagues– so I’ll spare the details that would render this post redundant. But let me tell you of the brilliance of actress Sang Min Lee.
But first: this post does discuss a [historical] event that could act as a trigger for some of my readers.
Sang Min Lee performed her monologue, “Say It,” in her native Korean with English subtitles projected on a red curtain behind her. She spoke on behalf of Korea’s aging “comfort women.” Her monologue was succinct and raw; her speech wavered slightly as she begun to tell us her story. Her voice rose with the intensity and terror of her descriptions of the abuse, rape, and conditions of life at a “comfort station.” As her monologue reached its climax, tears streaming down her cheeks, she screamed for Japan to “say it.” To say sorry to all of Korea’s “comfort women.” To say sorry for destroying the lives of so many women and girls and families. To admit to their crimes against women. To acknowledge them. In what might very well be one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen, the audience audibly wept with her.
For those who aren’t familiar with Asia’s “comfort women,” many poor Korean girls were systematically tricked or abducted from their homes by Japanese military around the time of WWII and were subsequently forced to “work” at comfort stations in Japanese occupied territories. Under the pretense of working in a factory or being told that their leaving would help protect their fathers from death at the hands of Japanese soldiers, these women–many as young as 14– were held captive in “comfort stations” in foreign countries. They were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers– and were raped upwards of 30 to 50 times per day. They were not allowed to bathe, they were not allowed to say “no,” they were not allowed to leave. Many were beaten, many were underfed, many had developed infections and sores and rashes on their bodies and genitals. Roughly three-fourths of the comfort women died. It is estimated that some 200,000 Korean women were forced into this sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army (other women were abducted from China, the Philippines, and Japan, as well as Thailand, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries to serve as comfort women).
For those of you living and working in Korea who would like to learn more about the history of comfort women, please check out Nanum: The House of Sharing‘s website. Visitors can tour the Nanum House and learn more about the history of Japan’s comfort stations and the women forced to work inside them. Nanum House also serves as a home for some of the surviving comfort women.
After Sang Min Lee’s performance, an intermission and several monologues followed, including a rather incredible display of physical comedy and stage presence by Jessica Adel. In her monologue, “The Woman Who Loved To Make Vagina’s Happy,” Adel demonstrated for the audience all of the many types of moans that she had encountered as an escort for females: The W.A.S.P., The Korean (“오빠ㅏㅏㅏㅏ~~”), The Restrained, The Screamer, etc. The audience roared with laughter at all of her moan imitations– I mean, she got into it... And to be honest, after witnessing some pretty emotional performances, it was a nice way to wrap up the evening.