by Chungmi Kim, directed by Frances W. Hill
OCTOBER 23 - NOVEMBER 28
Oct. 23 - 27 - Previews
Opening Night October 28
Between 1937 and 1945, the Japanese Imperial Forces conscripted or abducted about 200,000 young women, some as young as 12, from Asian countries to serve as sex slaves, known euphemistically as “comfort women,” for more than 2 million Japanese troops and officers. The play COMFORT WOMEN (formerly HANAKO), written by the Korean-born playwright Chungmi Kim, tells the story of these women as they begin to acknowledge and speak out about their experience. Set in 1994, JINA, an NYU student, meets two Korean “comfort women” who have come to speak at the UN protest. She brings them to her home in Queens, New York, where they meet her grandmother. Stories are told and secrets are revealed in this powerful and haunting theatre piece.
Starring TINA CHEN
The New York Times says : "This effective drama comes alive with strong performances" (Nov. 8)
"Comfort Women is a play of enormous emotion and prominent social awareness. There's also a good chance it wil make you cry...[it] presents a picture of beauty belying pain, of torture threatening to overtake peace, and of the truth that can't be hidden." Talkinbroadway.com, Oct. 28
"If you haven't seen this play yet, please do! Seeing it was such an intense experience for me. ... I cried continuously thoughout the play. This was the first time I had cried since I was a child. ... Whether you know about the Comfort Women, or whether this is all news to you, see this play. It will change you." impressions from an audince member, NYU theatre forum.
Military brothels, or “comfort houses,” started appearing in 1931 after the Japanese invaded Manchuria. After 1937, these houses were rapidly established in countries that the Japanese invaded and occupied—from Manchuria to New Guinea. Chinese, Philippine, Indonesian, Dutch and other nationalities made up a small percentage (10-20%) of the comfort women. The rest, or 80-90%, of the women, most of them teenagers, were Korean, forcibly taken from their homes and sent to brothels all over the Pacific arena. Japanese military doctors confirmed that most of the women examined were Korean civilians and were free of sexually transmitted diseases. In the brothels, the women suffered from disease and malnutrition; many died as a result. They also were summarily beaten, tortured, or killed if they resisted in any way.
After the war, the Japanese government destroyed all documents and references to the comfort houses. They claimed that commercial businessmen were responsible for the movement of these women to comfort houses. It is doubtful whether businessmen had the means to procure and transport thousands of Korean women without the knowledge and assistance of the government and/or military. Furthermore, the testimonies of the surviving comfort women after the war imply a widespread, organized campaign: “There was a Japanese agent. . .in our village and he told me of a place where I would be able to study and earn money at the same time.” Another survivor testified: “There was a female village leader who said that at the very least each house had to ‘donate’ a daughter to the war effort. I went in the stead of the daughter of the house where I was working as a maid.” Another typical testimony: “Our family was very poor and we were extremely hungry. One day, there was an announcement about employment in a Japanese factory. They would only employ women. I went to escape from hunger.” And: “Our school teacher enforced the idea of volunteering for our country. At the time, we did everything that our elders, teachers especially, told us to do. I did as my teacher told me, and after being taken on an inspection tour of a factory located in Tokoyama, was forced to a comfort house in the South Pacific Islands.”
When lies, coercion, and false promises failed, the women were kidnapped. One woman testified: “Coming back home from a friend’s house I passed by a police station. A policeman jumped out and took me to a comfort house.” Fearful of these kidnappings, many families married their daughters off (the Japanese generally did not take married women for this purpose). Because the healthy, able-bodied men were fighting in the war, the young girls generally were married to much older, physically disabled, or injured men.
At the end of the war, many of the comfort women were killed and some committed suicide. Those who survived suffered in silence, isolation, poverty, and shame, and their stories remained buried for decades. In 1991, the first survivor of the comfort houses broke the silence. Since then, others have come forward demanding justice and reparations from the Japanese government. There are at present only about a hundred survivors in South Korea. (essay by Kitty Chen)
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