PLAY: Falling in Time 14.211 min read

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By C. E. Gatchalian

The setting is Vancouver, 1995. Steve is an ailing, embittered Korean War vet. Jamie is a cold, withdrawn ESL teacher. Chang Hyun is a Korean ESL student brimming with anti-Western sentiment. Eun Ha is an old Korean woman who, against all odds, finds the will to survive. Across two continents and over a span of more than forty years, the lives of these four characters miraculously intertwine.

A meditation on war, masculinity, sexuality, personal boundaries, and love, Falling in Time asks the question, how do we let go?

In 2007 Falling in Time was one of five works selected for Factory Theatre’s CrossCurrents Festival in Toronto, a public showcase of culturally diverse plays-in-development. It was dramaturged and directed by Stratford Festival veteran Nigel Shawn Williams.

Vancouver’s Screaming Weenie Productions will produce the world premiere of Falling in Time in Fall 2011.

Below are the play’s first few scenes.



Lights up on EUN HA, seated and frail, facing the audience.


EUN HA:                                                    (English translation)

Na jjom bua.                                             Look at me.


Iro sot.                                                         Stand up.


Mori lul manjo .                                       Touch your hair.

She touches her hair.

Olgul.                                                          Your face.

She touches her face.

Bal.                                                              Your arms.

She touches her arms.

Tari.                                                             Your legs.

She touches her legs.

Tesso.                                                           There now.


Ta wasso.                                                     You are here.

Light dims. EUN HA moves to her area upstage, where she will remain for most of this act. She will be lit by a dim but distinct pool of light throughout.


Scene One

Lights up. Vancouver, 1995. School. CHANG HYUN and JAMIE are seated in their respective chairs.



Who’s your best friend?

CHANG HYUN: My best-uh priend-uh.

JAMIE: Best. Friend.

CHANG HYUN: Best-uh. Priend-uh.

JAMIE:  Best.

CHANG HYUN: Best-uh.

JAMIE: Friend.

CHANG HYUN: Priend-uh.

JAMIE: Not “best-uh.” Best. Not “priend-uh.” Friend. F, fuh friend.

CHANG HYUN: Best-uh. Priend-uh.

JAMIE: Okay. So who’s your best friend?

CHANG HYUN: My best-uh priend-uh.


My grandmahduh.


JAMIE: Grandmother.


Thuhs and duhs. Thuhs and duhs.

CHANG HYUN: Grandmahduh.


JAMIE: So your best friend’s your grandmother?

Could you elaborate on that?


JAMIE: Could you elaborate on that?

CHANG HYUN: Elaborate.

JAMIE: Elaborate. Verb. To explain something in detail.

CHANG HYUN: Why you use hard word?

JAMIE: Why do you use hard words.

CHANG HYUN: Why you use hard word?

JAMIE: Why do I use hard words? Because it would make no sense for me to talk down to you. You’re here to improve your English, so you need to rise to my level. So. Your best friend’s your grandmother?

CHANG HYUN: Yeah-yeah.


JAMIE: Could you elaborate on that?

CHANG HYUN: Elaborate.

JAMIE: Elaborate. Verb. To explain something in detail.


CHANG HYUN: Where dat word comes prom?

JAMIE: Pardon?

CHANG HYUN: Where dat word comes prom?

JAMIE: Where does that word come from. You need does between where and that. It’s come, not comes. From, not prom. That, not dat. P’s and F’s. Thuhs and duhs.


CHANG HYUN: Where dat word comes prom?

JAMIE: This is a conversation class, not an etymology one.


JAMIE: Etymology. Noun. The origin of words.


JAMIE: Origin. Noun. The point at which something begins.


CHANG HYUN: Where dat word comes prom?


JAMIE: As I said, this is a conversation class, not an etymology one. I’m not mandated to explain to you the origin of individual words. However, since you asked, elaborate derives from the Latin, elaborare: to work out, acquire by labour. Elaborate. Elaborate. So. Your best friend’s your grandmother?


Would you care to tell me about her?


CHANG HYUN: Care to…

JAMIE: Care to means like to. Would you care to tell me about her?


At this point EUN HA, with deliberate, ritualistic movements, begins to physically morph into the DOCTOR.

CHANG HYUN: My grandmahduh. Yeah-yeah.

She gib bird (birth) to my pahduh.

My pahduh he is bud (bird). Beautipul, Beautipul bud.

Den he meets mahduh. My mahduh she is bear.

Big bird meet bear. Paektu-san bolcano.

Dey marry, hab son. I grow, discober Pyongyang, Nord Korea, you know?

I Great Leader. Ep, puh, priend.

Fees and Eps. Thuhs and duhs.


JAMIE: So, your pahduh—I mean, your father, he—

Lights down.

Scene Two

Lights up. The doctor’s office. STEVE is seated.

Enter DOCTOR (played by the actor playing EUN HA), file in hand. The expression on his face is exceedingly cold. He is looking down at his file.

DOCTOR: Mr. Wendland, the results are in.


You’ve tested positive for HIV.


And I’m afraid it’s progressed to AIDS.


Any questions?


STEVE: You’re nuts.


You’re fucking nuts.


There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m fine. Do you hear me? I’m fine.


Now it’s your turn, mister. Tell me I’m fine.


C’mon, open your trap, tell me I’m fine.

DOCTOR: Mr. Wend/land

STEVE: Just say it, you wuss: I’m fine!


DOCTOR: Mr. Wendland, you’re not fine./You’re

STEVE: [violently grabbing him by the collar]: I’m fine! I’m fucking fine! Fucking say it or…

Pause. The DOCTOR says nothing, remains very cold. STEVE lets him go, chuckles.

Why should I listen to some four-eyed ninny who can’t even look me straight in the eye?

He grabs his coat.

I refuse to whittle away. I refuse to not exist. I refuse to be a lab mouse for geeks in white suits who think they’re destined to inherit the earth.


I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine. I’m outta here.


I’ve always been able to figure things out on my own, mister, and I’ve been right one hundred percent of the time. So here’s what I’ve got figured out about this thing you say I have: it’s nothing that a simple life adjustment can’t cure.


And what, pray tell, would that life adjustment be? Doing a few more reps in the gym, eating a few more veggies for supper, and keeping the hell away from people like you who are trying to bring me down.

Beat. Talking into the DOCTOR’s face.

No one’s bringing me down, Doc. I’ll see you in your grave.

He exits. Fade out.

Scene Three

Lights up on CHANG HYUN and JAMIE. School.

The DOCTOR, back upstage, begins to morph back into EUN HA.



Chang Hyun.


What do you like better, cats or dogs?


Chang Hyun?


CHANG HYUN: Actually, I don’t like animal.

JAMIE: Animals.

CHANG HYUN: Animal. I hate dem. But ip I hab to choose—


CHANG HYUN: Ip I hab to choose, I choose dog.

JAMIE: Tense. Conditional.

CHANG HYUN. I choose dog, because dey make good meal.

JAMIE: Good meal? Article?

CHANG HYUN: Good meal. Belly (very) delicious.

JAMIE: V. Vuh. Very.

CHANG HYUN: B. Buh. Belly. Delicious.

JAMIE: You’ve eaten dog?

CHANG HYUN: Isn’t it “a dog”?

JAMIE: No, because we’re using dog as food.


JAMIE: When you talk about animals as food they’re not countable. You don’t say, “I ate a fish.” You don’t say, “I ate a chicken.”

CHANG HYUN: But you say, “I ate an apple.”

JAMIE: That’s different.


JAMIE: Because apples aren’t animals.



JAMIE: Why what?

CHANG HYUN: Why all dese rule?

JAMIE: Rules.


JAMIE: Every language has rules.

CHANG HYUN: I mean, why article bepore pruit and no article bepore animal?

JAMIE: I don’t know.

CHANG HYUN: You don’t?

JAMIE: All languages are arbitrary, self-enclosed systems, the rules of which must be learned by practice and by rote. There is no logical, intrinsic reason for anything.


So. You’ve eaten dog?


Chang Hyun.


Chang Hyun?

CHANG HYUN: Ip dere no…logical, intrinsic…reason por anysing den I just go.

CHANG HYUN exits. Fade out.

Scene Four

SOUND FX: Bar. People talking and laughing, glasses clinking, etc.

STEVE: I tell ya… [Lights up on STEVE in a bar, on a stool, drink in hand, inebriated, talking to some unseen other.] the Canucks have gotta fucking brush up on their defense. Did you see that game against the Rangers? Fucking incompetence. 3-2, five minutes left in the third. A fucking one goal lead they had and the Rangers quiet as pansies. Then some fifth-line teeny bopper from a farm team ends up tying it. How in hell on God’s green earth did that fucking happen? I’ll tell you how: they fucking fell asleep. They may as well have emptied the ice and the net coz the path was fucking clear for them to score that goal. Jesus, they fell asleep. And you know what happens when people fall asleep, buddy boy? They die. They fucking die. I for one never sleep. Okay, I nod off a coupla hours or so but I don’t sleep the way others do, and you know why? Coz sleep’s for sissies. It’s—

Lights snap out, 1-count. Lights up. Again he is talking to some unseen other.

Kimchi, you know what kimchi is, don’t you? You don’t? What, did you just crawl out of the backwoods? You’ve never heard of kimchi? Where you from? Surrey? Kimchi, Christ, it’s only the best food ever created. It gets you revved up, it gets you all horny—I fucked like a rabbit when I was back in Korea. A lot of Korean bitches had a fill of this here [points to his crotch] and are happier women for it. You think in a million years they’d get what I gave them from their men? They’re a bit…under-blessed, to put it, as they say, delicately. But kimchi, fuck, it made a warrior out of me. I’d sneak as much as I could into the barracks and I’d eat it every morning, I’d get this fucking rush and my day’d be all set. I got into amazing shape—my biceps were hard as melons [flexes his biceps]—still got them, by the way, not bad for a pensioner. But more important, I was a great soldier. Sure, I was drafted, but I woulda gone anyways, [almost comically pious, hand over heart] for my family, for my country, for God. And I did it on a measly two hours of sleep every day. When everyone else was asleep I was busy doing push-ups. Coz sleep’s for sissies. You know what happens when people sleep? They die. Sleep’s for sissies, buddy boy, they—

Lights snap out, 1-count. Lights up. Again he is talking to some unseen other.

Jazz. You like jazz? What d’ya mean, you hate it? More like you don’t understand it. You can’t hate what you don’t understand now, can you? There’s no shame in admitting you’re stupid. In fact more people should—the world would run a hell of a lot smoother if they did. If you, for example, would just admit that you’re stupid, you wouldn’t be here arguing with me now and we’d both be having a nicer time. “An Oscar for Treadwell,” Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. They’re a team in perfect sync but at the same time rivals, pushing each other, outdoing each other, first Bird with his solo, swinging back and forth from the most fucking mind-blowing mathematical shit to the funkiest blues this side of a plantation, then Diz with his solo, a high-flying “fuck you” to Bird, making consonance out of dissonance the way God made order out of chaos. And you have the gall to say that you don’t like it? Tell you what, once you nudge your IQ into the two digits come and talk to me, but till then just shut the fuck up. Oh yeah? Well what you need is some wrinkle cream, a facelift and an attitude adjustment. What would you know about jazz? This is Canada, for Christ’s sake. Jazz is American, it’s about freedom of the mind, of the spirit. Fucking ironic—I risk my life fighting Commies and here I am in a Communist country. Honestly if it weren’t for hockey I’d find this country fucking unbearable—still amazes me that this sissy-nation could come up with a sport like that. Don’t you tell me to go to sleep. Sleep’s for sissies, and you know what happens when people sleep? They fucking die, I tell ya—

Lights snap out.

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