Emille

Here is a YouTube video of the Emille bell’s ring. Along with the folktale that accompanies the Bell of King Seongdeok, it’s incredibly haunting. I have toyed with putting into the stage directions to play this sound either directly before or after the play.

Also, I need to enter in stage directions specific for the mother, where her monologue thoughts are in fluent English, but her in-character spoken lines are in stilted English. Can we find such an actress?!

{ ~ }

A group of people walk onto the stage. There is the FATHER, the MOTHER, the SISTER and BROTHER, all of Korean decent. A Korean TOUR GUIDE is walking with them, and points off stage to an object, and begins to speak in Korean. The FATHER translates to the children in a slight Korean accent.

FATHER: This is the Bell of King Seongdeok, one of the largest bells in the world.

SISTER: That’s pretty sweet.

FATHER: It is the 29th national treasure of Korea, and weights about 25 tons. On a clear day, the notes can be heard almost 40 miles away. It was commissioned by King Gyeondeok of the Silla to honor his father King Seondeok the Great, where it gets its name. It was not finished until the reign of King Hyegong, the son of King Gyeondeok, in 771 B.C.

SISTER (to BROTHER): See, I told you us Koreans are freaking awesome.

FATHER: There is a myth that surrounds this bell. (SISTER becomes excited) When it was originially made, it at first did not ring. And so the bell was melted down again. The priest of the temple it was being made for had a dream and was told that if a baby was cast into the metal, the bell would ring. They did so, and after the bell was remade the priest rang it and produced a beautiful sound. However, later the mother missed the baby so much that she went inside the bell. When the priest rang the bell with the mother inside, she died. This is why the bell’s ring sounds like “em-ee-leh,”which means mommy.

SISTER (horrified): Wait – what?!

BROTHER: Wait, I thought it was omma.

MOTHER (stilted English): Well, the word in Korean for mommy right now isomma, but emille was the old Silla word for mommy.

SISTER: That’s…really twisted.

FATHER: That’s the myth. Anyway, the tour guide says we have an hour to look inside the museum before we have to get back on the bus. So meet back here in an hour. You all have watches or cellphones right?

SISTER: Yep. Let’s go.

BROTHER: I’m…I want to look at the bell a little bit longer.

MOTHER (Stilted English): Me too. (To the family) We’ll just meet back here in an hour.

The family exchanges goodbyes and parts ways. The MOTHER and BROTHER is silent for a while, and then looks up off stage at the bell.

BROTHER: So…national treasure, huh? That’s pretty cool. Really bizarre story with it, but then again, I guess the original Brothers Grimm fairytales were just as bad. You know, eyes being pecked out and stuff. (nervous laugh)

The BROTHER looks around, and starts to walk away, then stops, and walks back.

BROTHER (angry): You know, you make life really hard, you know that? Well, I mean, not you. You’re just a bell. But what you represent. Korea. I mean, I like my heritage and all, but…sometimes I wish…

In the background, several people walk past.

PERSON 1: Excuse me, can you help me find the – oh! You’re Asian. Uh, (Speaking loudly, slowly and with overexaggerated hand motions) Can you help me find the station?

BROTHER: I can speak English, you know.

PERSON 2: Why are you even criticizing the government like that? You should be ashamed. You parents sacrificed so much to get here.

BROTHER: I probably know more about the government than you do. There’s a reason why I like this place. (sarcastic smile) My parents did way too good of a job teaching me to love it.

ASIAN 1: What do you mean, you’re not coming? What? Suddenly you’re too good for us? Yeah, run along with all your white friends. Way to betray us.

BROTHER: That’s not what I meant!

PERSON 3: Eh, the only reason why you got into this university is because you’re Asian. The whole Affirmative Action thing. If you were white, it’d be a totally different story.

BROTHER: I…I hate you.

TWO ASIAN PEOPLE walk past, talking in Korean and laughing.

BROTHER (to the TWO ASIAN PEOPLE): Oh, hey! So, I’m new at this university and I was wondering…

The TWO ASIAN PEOPLE look at him with some disgust. One of them says something in Korean and they both laugh, and then walk away. The BROTHER walks back to the center of the stage, dejected.

The MOTHER sighs and looks up at the bell, then down at her feet.

MOTHER: Everything around here is so familiar. The mountains, the hills. Even that grass – I’ve only seen this kind of grass in Korea. And the humidity is just how I remember it too. (rueful laugh) It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to come back. Sometimes I wonder if it was the right thing to do, leaving this place –

The MOTHER looks at the BROTHER, who is now looking at the bell again.

MOTHER: No. It was right. I’ve given my children opportunities I didn’t even dream of had I stayed here. But it hasn’t been easy. It’s never easy, leaving home.

BROTHER: Look, I’m not blaming you… Seondook… whatever your name is. It’s just hard, you know? I dunno. You’re just a dead king. We’re both pretty different. (pause) You know, my dad says we’re from your line. So you could be like, my grandpa or something, right? Like, a great-great-great grandpa? That would be cool. I’ve never really been able to talk to my grandparents. You know, the not knowing the language thing. I guess it’s mostly my fault; I should have taken the time to learn. I mean, I feel guilty. They…they both passed away. On my dad’s side. I really regret it, you know? Not being able to talk to them. Could you imagine? Not being able to talk to your grandson, just because he was too lazy to…

The TOUR GUIDE enters the stage, smiles at the BROTHER, who smiles back. The TOUR GUIDE then leaves. The BROTHER is silent for a minute.

BROTHER and MOTHER: Have you ever been alone?

BROTHER: I mean, really alone. Not just by yourself alone, but really alone. Like, you’re in a room full of people at a party but you still feel so completely alone. Yeah, I feel like that a lot. I mean, I’m used to it, and it’s not like I lock myself in a dark room and write really terrible poetry or anything. But a lot of the time, I feel alone. I feel like no one understands me.

MOTHER: Not being able to understand what’s going on in the new place you live, learning a new language. Even if you wanted to talk to people, you couldn’t. Everyone looks at you like you’re stupid, because you can’t speak English. That’s loneliness. And raising your children in a world you don’t even get. I guess I really missed Korea, more than I thought I did. I miss just understanding.

PERSON 1, PERSON 2, PERSON 3, ASIAN 1 and the TWO ASIAN PEOPLE walk onto the stage, conversing silently in their various conversations.

BROTHER: It’s hard, straddling two worlds, never feeling like you completely belong. Never really being able to connect with people. But hey, don’t get me wrong! That’s what’s so great about me, okay? I’m unique, my own person. I don’t hold to any of the stereotypes. I’m actually a pretty bad Asian. I can’t speak Korean, right? And get this, I suck at Starcraft and DDR. Oh, and you know World of Warcraft? I couldn’t even get past level 37 from boredom. (laughs) Well, not like you’d know. You’re kind of…old. And dead. You’re a dead king. But trust me, your people absolutely love Starcraft.

PERSON 1 walks up to BROTHER.

PERSON 1: So how are your people doing?

BROTHER: Uh, my people?

PERSON 1: You know, where you’re from.

BROTHER: Seattle? They’re good…I guess. Uh, we lost the Sonics to Oklahoma.

PERSON 1: No no, your people. Your people.

BROTHER: But I’m from Sea-

PERSON 1: Okay, where your parents are from then.

BROTHER: Oh. I…they’re…good?

PERSON 1: Wait, you mean you’ve never been there?

BROTHER: No.

PERSON 1 (uncomfortable): Oh.

PERSON 1 exits the stage. PERSON 2, PERSON 3, TOUR GUIDE and TWO ASIAN PEOPLE look at the BROTHER while the BROTHER looks at the bell.

MOTHER: Sometimes my husband and I told them stories, mostly when they were kids, about living in Korea. They couldn’t believe it! My husband especially had the most outrageous stories about post-war Korea. I hardly believe them myself. But my kids had no idea what we were talking about. They had no idea what our life was like when we were their age.

BROTHER: Well, okay. Not your people. My, well, no. Our people. Our people really like stuff like Starcraft and World of Warcraft. You wouldn’t be able to understand, but trust me. It’s huge. Like…like…well, what kind of fads did you have back then? Uh, spears? Bells, I guess.

MOTHER: I suppose that’s normal for every kid and their parents, but sometimes it’s hard for them to understand where we came from even more than usual. We were not born in America. When we came here, everyone knew we were different and sometimes they treated us like that. And it was hard. We tried so hard to teach them to be Korean American, but maybe we taught them to be too American. I wonder if my children feel Korean. And what if they didn’t? Should I be happy or sad?

BROTHER: Huh. Our people. I’ve…I’ve never said that before.

MOTHER: It’s nice to hear Korean again all the time. English is pretty hard. My son is majoring in English. Funny, isn’t it? He can’t even speak enough Korean to talk to his own mother, but he’s majoring in English. Well, I suppose it’s my fault. We brought them over here, right? Raised them up to be American, not Korean. Well, Korean American, I guess. Maybe I could have done more. Maybe if I had worked harder at teaching him Korean. It would be nice to be able to really understand each other. Both using the same language.

The TWO ASIAN PEOPLE are talking in Korean and laughing in the background.

MOTHER: It’s strange not being able to really talk with your own child. I never thought I’d feel that.

PERSON 2 and 3 approach the MOTHER.

PERSON 2: You’ve done a remarkable job raising your son.

MOTHER (stilted English): Thank you.

PERSON 3: Yes, I’m surprised that your children speak English so good. I can’t ususally ever understand the Asian kids in our neighborhood most of the time. (glances at MOTHER, feels guilty and adds hastily) No offense.

MOTHER just nods politely.

PERSON 2: I’m not racist, but it’s just so nice to have more culture in our neighborhood that I can actually understand.

MOTHER just nods again, and PERSON 2, PERSON 3, the TWO ASIAN PEOPLE exit. TOUR GUIDE approaches the BROTHER and begins to talk in KOREAN.

BROTHER: Oh I uh…sorry, I don’t speak Korean very well…

MOTHER speaks in KOREAN and  TOUR GUIDE looks a bit surprised. He says a few things in KOREAN, the MOTHER nods and TOUR GUIDE exits.

BROTHER (to mom): Um, what did he want?

MOTHER (stilted English): He was asking us if we’d visited the gift shop yet.

BROTHER: Oh, strange.

MOTHER (in that nagging mom voice, stilted English): You really should learn Korean. Then I wouldn’t have to translate for you all the time.

BROTHER (exasperated): Oh, mom. Please don’t start… (his tone softens) I’m sorry. Really. About not learning Korean.

MOTHER (stilted English): Oh, well. It’s just very useful, you know?

BROTHER: Yeah. (He looks again at the bell) I never did feel out of place though, not until I started going to high school. My parents did a good job, trying to get us kids to mesh. I guess I can’t complain.

The MOTHER and BROTHER stand on stage, looking at the bell, silent for a bit.

BROTHER: Had the baby cast in the bell, huh? That is really twisted. But…

MOTHER: To lose a baby into a bell, completely encased in metal.

BROTHER: There’s gotta be some kind of symbolism in there. I mean, people back then didn’t just make up weird stuff just for kicks and giggles right? Like, the Greeks had legends of things like medusa and other fantastical creatures to explain things, right?

MOTHER: I’d probably go crazy, too, and stand in the bell. I couldn’t stand losing any of my children, let alone throwing them into molten metal.

BROTHER: What did Professor Calloway say? It represented some kind of manifestation of their fear of the unknown or explaining natural phenomena or some kind of Jungian this and that. Or maybe it’s just my English classes talking. I shouldn’t have taken so much lit crit. That’ll mess with your head. Start seeing meaning behind things that probably don’t have any meaning.

MOTHER: Sometimes it feels that way. Metal between us. It’s hard to communicate every now and then, but…a bell that sounds like a child calling out to his mother. The child still knew its mother, even while trapped in that bell. That’s something. Hm. Even I remember a long time ago, when my kids used to call me-

BROTHER (interrupting): Omma?

MOTHER (surprised, stilted English): Is something wrong?

BROTHER: No, it’s just…is it okay if I call you that?

MOTHER (stilted English): Oh, yes. Of course. It’s been a while since you called me that.

BROTHER: Oh. Sorry.

MOTHER (stilted English): No, no. It’s okay. What is it?

BROTHER: Oh, nothing. I guess I just wanted to say it.

The MOTHER smiles, puts her arm around the BROTHER’s back and rubs his shoulder. BROTHER and MOTHER stand silently side by side looking at the bell as the stage fades to black.

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