TEA’s ‘99 Histories’ illustrates the multiple faces of ‘jeong’
By Brenda Velasquez, Asian Avenue magazine
It’s something deeper than romance. Theatre Esprit Asia’s 99 Histories opened Thursday night October 24 at the intimate Vintage Theatre in Aurora. The evocative play explored the universal theme of love within romantic, platonic and parental contexts framed by a Korean-American lens.
When Eunice Kim’s traditional mother plays matchmaker, reuniting her with an old classmate-turned-handsome-but-engaged-doctor, he explains his lukewarm companionship with his fiancé as a product of ‘jeong’: an ambiguous term akin to love that playwright Julia Cho describes as “what exists between people who are so closely bonded that, for better or worse, each is essential to the other’s achieving full self-hood.”
When Eunice searches through her mother’s heirlooms, she discovers photographs revealing a long-lost romance between an unidentified Korean girl and an American soldier. The play employs a striking time-shifting technique to bring these photos to life before the audience like moving portraits, as actors perform the courtship glimpsed within the snapshots.
Though the characters never indulged in so much as a kiss or embrace, the palpable intensity of the amorous sentiment between them permeated the theatre: the audience observed in complete stillness as the yearning soldier gazed silently at the girl beside him, boldly stroking her hair in tender admiration; they listened intently as Eunice’s old classmate recounted in a quiet voice the unforgettable touch her childhood violin-playing had left on his heart; they sympathized with Eunice’s ex as he described the acute pain of her rejection.
But after examining these romantic contexts, the story ultimately champions parental love over amorous passion.
Neither the romance between the Korean girl and her soldier nor Eunice and her ex reach fruition; only the love between Eunice and her mother fully blooms as they learn to open their hearts to each other, demonstrating the incomparable depth of the jeong between a mother and child.
For show times or more information about Theatre Espirit Asia, visit www.theatre-esprit-asia.org.