Presented by The Theatre Centre for the 2020 Progress Festival, Jaha Koo’s Cuckoo is an informative, whimsical and melancholic multi-media presentation. Weaving his own personal experiences into this meditation on the 1997 South Korean financial crisis, he reflects on the emotional consequences of socio-economic catastrophe.
With archival video and personal anecdotes, Koo examines the psyche of young South Koreans who, like himself, came of age during the period of the IMF rescue plan. The content doesn’t delve too deeply into the complexities of the crisis, but fixates on the psychological cost. Suicide features prominently. There are some video sequences that, while not excessively graphic, contain some disturbing sights.
Cuckoo is a popular South Korean brand of electric rice cooker. Sharing the stage with Koo, are three sentient members of this Cuckoo family: named Hana, Duri and Seri. There is some sassy banter between two of them who are engaged in a not-so-friendly competition for the spotlight. While only the silent one seems to be doing the actual work of cooking rice, the other two indulge their pretensions. They bicker over who has the most to offer in a hilarious battle of harsh words and flashy LED displays.
Koo, entirely unassuming, has a remarkable presence and is in full command of our attention. With measured restraint, he conjures a multitude of varied and complex emotions. He has a knack for playful, resonant understatement.
The integration of video, subtitles and live performance is well executed. And you do, weirdly enough, even believe in the varied personalties of each of the rice cookers! Koo ends the performance with a prolonged, meditative sequence involving some freshly cooked rice. I found myself trying to intellectualize this finale and was at a loss, but it is feels weighty and distinctly purposeful.