I once received a text message saying “We have removed the credit limit on your account; thank you for paying your bill on time for the past six months”. Nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me, and it was an automatic text message from Virgin Mobile. I suppose that can be considered sad, but it almost felt like receiving a congratulatory text from an actual person. Almost.
Now imagine yourself alone in your home, in a moment of complete solitude, “isolation without help”. Then suddenly, the silence is broken by the voice of your rice cooker saying: “I am finished cooking your rice. Please stir the rice.” Having a talking rice cooker is almost like having company, right? Or does that robotic voice only highlight just how alone we really are?
“Cuckoo”, created by Jaha Koo, weaves together the economic crisis in South Korea and the ensuing rapid increase of the country’s suicide rate with personal stories from Koo’s life, including the loss of several friends to suicide. He performs the piece alongside three very special actors: Cuckoo brand rice cookers. Nearly every Korean household probably has a Cuckoo rice cooker. Koo uses this as an entry point, a shared personal connection that branches out into the broader themes he wishes to explore. These pressure cookers are aptly cast scene partners who cook actual rice onstage while cleverly portraying a modern society continuously rising towards a boiling point and crumbling under pressure.
Two of the rice cookers talk, sing and brag about their flashing lights and versatile LCD screens. They insult each other’s rice-cooking abilities and inherent worth in a ruthless laugh-out-loud battle of wits. The third just makes rice… “just”, as if making rice is somehow not enough. Not unlike the countless people just trying to do their jobs while stuck in the middle of a widespread dire economic situation, in a society where taking on tasks far beyond our job description and way above our pay grade is normal and expected of all. Cuckoo’s inanimate characters are a fantastic vehicle for social commentary, as well as an innovative source of humor amidst an otherwise serious show.
Koo also composed the music of “Cuckoo”, mostly sung by the rice cookers. It ranges from a catchy pop tune about former American secretary of state Robert Rubin, to a moving instrumental piece composed in the aftermath of a friend’s death by suicide. “When he died, I made this music”, states Koo, who might agree that although inspiration can come from pain, some pains are just not worth it – and can never be worth it – no matter how great the inspiration. But I suppose creating is also a way to move through a painful time.
Projections also play an important part in the production: English and French surtitles, video footage of riots in Korea’s streets from the nineties to the present day, a suicide caught on film by a metro car’s security camera, and excerpts from an eye-roll inducing presentation on happiness by Robert Rubin’s daughter in law Gretchen – which one of the rice cookers hilariously interrupts: “I’m sick of this white nonsense! Regular people like her? Her family is literally part of the 1%!”
A rice cooker sings an upbeat cheerful-sounding song about the effect of living under pressure. Later, a chilling scene where recounting the death of a young metro maintenance worker who was hit by an oncoming train while repairing a screen door which ironically prevents others from being hit by trains. And there in the middle of it all, the simple act of making rice – or rather having rice be made. “Cuckoo” lets the life-altering and the mundane exist side by side in a simultaneously personal and universal cry against the pitfalls of capitalism.
“Cuckoo” is an educational and philosophical treasure, with hilarious banter between rice cookers (I certainly never thought I would write such a sentence). It masterfully balances the personal and the worldwide, the human and the inanimate, creating a unique pressure-cooked theatrical feast.
The 13th Annual Festival TransAmériques presents
May 30 + 31 + June 1 + 2 at 9pm | June 1 at 3pm
Duration: 1 hour
In Korean with English and French surtitles
Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle
175, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest
514 844 3822 / 1 866 984 3822
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