Celine Song, whose “Endlings” begins previews tonight at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), knows how to create Korean characters. The playwright, a Korean Canadian, emigrated from South Korea with her parents at age 12, and her 91-year-old grandmother still lives in Seoul.
The greater challenge for Song — the key to writing what she considers her “impossible” play — was finding her own multifaceted voice, as an immigrant, a contemporary woman, and, she said, an “Asian Canadian married to a white American,” while striving to excel in a form defined largely by European-American men. That, she says, is what writing her new play, which is having its world premiere at the A.R.T. , taught her.
Not that the three elderly Korean women at the heart of “Endlings” are simple. Haenyeos — “sea women” — they are heirs to a centuries-old tradition of diving to harvest seafood off the Korean island of Man-Jae. Overtaken by technology, mechanization, fish farming, and the globalization of the food market, these women persevere despite knowing that they will likely be the last generation to practice their dangerous trade.
(The script calls for the haenyeo to perform both on land and under water. So the A.R.T. production features an onstage pool to bring that second environment to life as well.)