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Jeon Do-yeon returns to stage after 27 years

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Actor Jeon Do-yeon poses on stage to promote the play 'The Cherry Orchard.' / Courtesy of LG Arts Center

Actor Jeon Do-yeon poses on stage to promote the play "The Cherry Orchard." / Courtesy of LG Arts Center

'The first performance was scary, I wanted to run away,' says Jeon
By KTimes

In Anton Chekhov's original play, "The Cherry Orchard," written during the twilight of Imperial Russia, the character Lyuba Ranevskaya, a landowner struggling to cope with the changing social landscape, is preoccupied with love and her own personal concerns.

In the 2024 Seoul adaptation of "The Cherry Orchard," Song Do-yeong (played by Jeon Do-yeon), a member of a South Korean chaebol family, is on the brink of bankruptcy yet continues to host lavish parties. Despite her flaws, Song is portrayed as a character with a pure and endearing soul.

Australian director Simon Stone has reinterpreted Chekhov's play for this production, with Jeon performing as a "bad mother" who burdens her daughters with her own life's pain, yet remains undeniably charming.

In an interview at the LG Arts Center in Seoul on Tuesday, Jeon shared her reflections on the role: "After so many years as an actress, I wondered what new energy I could find, but the stage offers a unique stimulus and energy that I am learning to enjoy."

Having completed ten performances including previews, she said, "On the first night, I wanted to die, to run away. I still can't make eye contact with the audience, but this tension and anxiety isn't entirely unpleasant."

Jeon's last stage appearance was 27 years ago, so distant that she barely remembers it. Her decision to take on "The Cherry Orchard" came from a desire to broaden her horizons beyond TV and film, prompted by the thought that the success of K-content should not be confined to those mediums.

"In the process of seeking balance and stability within uncertainty, new things emerge and growth happens," she said. "Rather than striving for perfection on stage every night, I approach it with the mindset of embracing mistakes and learning from them."

A scene from 'The Cherry Orchard' / Courtesy of LG Arts Center

A scene from "The Cherry Orchard" / Courtesy of LG Arts Center

Character kisses her daughter's boyfriend

Jeon typically chooses her projects based on the story, but she made a bold choice with "The Cherry Orchard" based on the director.

Stone, known for his brilliant modern reinterpretations of classics and as the director of the film, "The Dig" (2021), captured her interest. "After watching the performance video of his previous work, 'Medea,' I was electrified," Jeon said.

However, Stone's method of working with "sides" (incomplete scripts) was challenging initially. When rehearsals started on April 1 this year, only 15 pages of the script were available.

Jeon recounted, "I cursed a lot internally and even threatened to quit since I hadn't signed a formal contract. But as the script took shape, I grew to trust his directing style. Now, if Simon asked me to work on another project, I would be inclined to say yes."

Balancing her role as a mother of a high school freshman, Jeon found Song Do-yeong difficult to understand from the script alone.

In the play, Song forms a tense relationship with her adopted daughter Kang Hyun-sook's boyfriend, Hwang Doo-sik, and even kisses her younger daughter Kang Hae-na's boyfriend, Byun Dong-lim.

"It's a character that's hard to accept," she said, "but Simon reassured me, saying ‘You're fine no matter what you do,' which eased my worries."

Jeon's recent role in the romantic comedy-drama "Crash Course in Romance" made her reflect on aging, something she hadn't considered much before.

Born in 1973, she was taken aback by reactions questioning how she could do a romantic comedy at her age.

"The shock of ‘How can she do a rom-com at that age?' was significant," she said. "But if a director needs me regardless of age, I should go with the flow without imposing limits on myself."

Jeon hopes that her choices convey the message that her involvement signals a quality production.

With "The Cherry Orchard," she hopes to break boundaries once more. "People often say that Jeon Do-yeon acts exceptionally well, which is true (laughs). But more than that, I want 'The Cherry Orchard' to be remembered as a great, much-loved work," she said.

This article from the Hankook Ilbo, sister publication of The Korea times, is translated by generative AI and edited by staff of The Korea Times.


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