Laughter without Emotional Engagement
Laughter without Emotional Engagement
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  • 승인 2007.08.13 15:45
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Hyoung-Taek Limb Professor, Theatre Department Seoul Institute of the Arts


Acomic play named Magic Store is being performed in Daehakro. It is said that its their 9th performance in a row, proving its popular reputation. The principal aim of this drama seems to be pleasing the audience members. People laugh and enjoy the slapstick moments of the play. Yet it doesnt really engage the audience emotionally. 
  There are five characters in all; two mannequins, in the Magic Store clothing shop, two thieves, sneaking into this store, and the guard who tries to capture these thieves. The play begins simply with two manikins natural desire to know the things around them. They are curious about what is happening in daily lives of humans and concerned about the world outside. Even though they are artificial manikins, they move, act and function as observers and stage hands. 
One night, a thief sneaks into this closed store to steal money, and the other thief comes in with the same purpose. One is a veteran robber, and the other is a sort of new comer in this stealing business. After confronting each other, the play reveals that each one has a life and death motive to steal money. The older has to get money for his wife and the younger desperately wants to become a singing star. While the two thieves are chattering about how life goes around them, the two manikins act as if they were real people in the real life of two thieves or in their dreams.
   Suddenly a guard appears into the store and tries to capture the old thief. However, he fails to seize the thief, as the younger thief who left the store comes back again and frees the older thief. While this event is happening, we find out that the guard also has a hard life. Everyone left but two manikins, and the store becomes quiet and peaceful again. It concludes with the discovery that things have not an absolute, but a relative existence. 
Although convincing in many ways and certainly supported by the characters awareness of conflict, the play never moves the audience in its dramatic structure. Audiences are engaged by some slapstick moments not by its emotional touch. All of the characters focus on the dramatic process as if this process were free from the imposing presence of reality and thus ignore the importance of the relationship between structural elements in determining the plays total meaning. From a dramaturgical standpoint, there are no dramatic events which connect the five characters. All connections are made by two manikins. Sometimes there are many political satires without any specific dramatic needs. It gives theatrical pleasure, yet it doesnt really engage the audience members emotionally. In a way, this play displays a montage of attractions, thus art becomes a kind of exhibitionism. Is the character of two manikins really necessary to the drama? Why did the author choose such an unrealistic story to illustrate his convictions? 
There are also some misunderstandings of the comic genre in this play. The basic error lies in the belief that comedy is futile, but comedy is like everything else in the world.  Great comic plays demonstrate above all that comedy can treat subjects of the gravest nature.
   People also believe that laughing about someone or something means laughing at that person or thing. The immediate conclusion is that laughter is unkind. When Charlie Chaplin makes us laugh, is he responsible for that laughter? Of course, since he is on stage, but do we laugh at him? No. All our sympathies lie with this character, and it is his enemies, those who plot against him, and society which seem ridiculous and odious to us.
   This kind of show will certainly entice the audience with the media of contemporary mass culture. If this play reflects, as I believe it does, a crisis of values and the consciousness the society has of the crisis, I should like to suggest going a step further to make the audience members have some deeper insight about how our society evolves.

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