"My Aunt in Texas", a new play produced by the National Theater Company of Korea, investigates the struggle of women who migrate to another country in search of happiness.
The plot evolves around a Korean woman who falls in love with a U.S. soldier stationed in Korea and moves to Texas, dreaming of a comfortable life in the rich West, and the Kyrgyz mail-order bride her brother marries. The two women's stories are juxtaposed as the Kyrgyz wife is subject to domestic violence and the Korean woman ends up alone in a dried-up corn field, a poignant metaphor for the course her life has taken.
The star of the show is Anna Rihlmann, also known as Anna Yoon, a German actress who is impressing critics and audiences with her portrayal of the innocent Kyrgyz women gradually resigning herself to everyday violence from her husband.
Rihlmann worked very hard to win the role and she even practiced traditional Kyrgyz dance by watching YouTube videos. "Korean actors would have found it hard to speak broken Korean in this role, but I didn't have to worry about that", she jokes. "At first, there were some things that I couldn't understand. Why wouldn't she just leave the husband who batters her? So, I started learning about Kyrgyzstan, and found that there is custom of bride kidnapping. If a man kidnaps a woman for three days, the woman's family won't take her back because she now belongs to the other family".
Rilhmann is from Kaiserslautern, a nondescript town in western Germany. "I was just attracted to Korea for no reason that I can identify", she said. "The impetus was Arirang TV, which I watched at a friend's house when I was 14, and the film '3-Iron' [directed by Kim Ki-duk in 2004] that I watched at a local cinema. I loved listening to Korean, and that spurred me to take interest in Korean culture".
She first visited Korea when she was in high school, and she went on to major in journalism and Korean studies at the University of Tubingen before moving to Korea five years ago. She even took the surname of the father of her first host family in Seoul and still lives with them.
She was exploring her career options while working at educational channel EBS in her early days here, and found her calling when she watched a play by the National Theater Company. She joined small theater troupe Dream Play in 2014, and became the first foreigner to be admitted to master's program in acting at the Korea National University of Arts.
So far mostly roles of American missionaries or German nurses have come her way. "Perhaps one day, I can play a Korean character without controversy", she said.
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