Reviewed by David Walters
There are two or three different plays going on here.
Off the southwest coast of Korea, the island of Man-Jae is the home and workplace to the last remaining three haenyeos, women skin-divers (the oldest in her 90s performing a tradition that dates back to the 17th century), who spend their remaining days diving the ocean to harvest sea creatures and plant life to sell. No one is coming to take their place. They have chased away, for good reason, anyone who might consider this lifestyle as it is obsolete, isolating (as there is only one boat a day to the mainland, in good weather), a hand to mouth existence, and the job is incredibly dangerous. The three elderly women perform strenuous physical labor every day, diving over and over again so that the repeated descents and water pressure have given them constant headaches and ear problems.
As they prepare to dive, they reminisce together, with stinging bitterness, to avoid the pain of their lives about past divers who perished, and occasionally wax poetic about deceased husbands. Their fate is sealed and they know it, but they are not able to do anything else.
There is a large tank on stage that has a pretense of depth (similar to the play) that the women dive into and we occasionally get to see them swim by in their rubber orange suits. Strenuous roles for these three actresses as they are popping in and out of the water throughout the 90 minutes of the show.
These last three haenyeos, Go Min (Emily Kuroda), Sook Ja (Jo Yang), and Han Sol (Wai Ching Ho), are archetypes — the brazen one, the one who clings to her beauty, and the stalwart one. There is also occasionally a dry disconnected documentary type voiceover describing the life-style of these three characters that alienates the audience from ever truly becoming involved.
On another island, called Manhattan, a Korean playwright (Jiehae Park) spends her days fretting that she is not being authentic to herself in her writing, is only writing white plays, but wants desperately to be accepted in the theatrical world, be produced and everyone fall in love with her writing and then she’ll get to write in Holywood. Maybe her play about haenyeos will be that play. Even though she has gotten numerous grants to write it, she hasn’t finished and she has to turn in something (Endlings is that something).
She goes to see a play with her husband (Miles G. Jackson) that has been touted by the Times, sits in the audience and we all watch a slightly humorous skit about white men talking about white things.
There are two or three different plays going on here which makes it really not about anything in the end.
The word “endling” means the last of its species…
I think you understand what I’m alluding to here.
This play has been imported from the American Repertory Theater in Boston.
NEW YORK THEATRE WORKSHOP 74 East 4th Street