Review: 'Kim's Convenience' - Even in Our Diversity, We Are All North American

Review: 'Kim's Convenience' - Even in Our Diversity, We Are All North American

Joe Szekeres

OnStage Toronto Critic

I’m reluctant to admit two things a) I had not seen the emotionally touching stage production of Ins Choi’s KIM’S CONVENIENCE and b) I have not watched the CBC’s first season televised adaptation and continuation of the play. 

What an incredibly poignant work of Canadian theatre [and television] that pulls at our hearts while moving all of us through laughter, sadness and tears in recognizing that life always involves change and we must continue to embrace it while moving forward.  Rogers On Demand – get ready for binge watching of Season 1.

The story centres on the fictional Korean Kim family who runs a convenience store in the close-knit community of Toronto’s Regent Park.  Ken MacKenzie’s set design transports us to a veritable re-creation of said convenience store resplendently worn with all of the unhealthy confectionaries along with the basic groceries of living.  Not only do our eyes move around that set wanting to take in everything, but also we are introduced to the sounds of traffic outside the store from honking horns to people shouting on the streets.  Lighting in this production is clearly focused with smooth transitions to each scene and moment.

Thank goodness for two more things:  a) Paul Sun-Hyung Lee continues in his role of Appa, the family patriarch.  b) He continues in the role of Appa in the CBC series that has been renewed for a second season. In his artist Programme note, Mr. Lee tells us that he has played this role for six years on stage and how grateful and humbled he is for this experience.  

Mr. Lee’s fine performance is an indication that we, too, are grateful for this opportunity both live and televised.

With his first entrance at the top of the show to open the store, we are witness to an actor of extreme talent who, in his silence with the occasional sigh, says everything while saying nothing.   This is an old school father who is proud of his heritage.  Despite the troubles, challenges and conflicts in his life whether familial, personal, or racial, Appa is a survivor by the end of the play.  Even though he is set in his ways, he has come around to learn that his children, Jung and Janet, have to live their lives their own way. 

Appa’s pretty, unmarried, thirty year old daughter Janet, played with true conviction and believability by Rosie Simon, is a photographer who wants to begin a new life on her own.

Janet is conflicted because she senses this ‘old school’ mentality of assuming the family responsibility to run the convenience store so Appa can retire.  

On top of this, Janet has always been responsible to remain with her family in the midst of tumult especially when her older brother, Jung (a dynamic and heart wrenching performance by Richard Lee) was kicked out of the house by Appa.  Additionally, Janet is once again torn in her choices when she begins to develop a romantic interest in the recently divorced Alex (a first rate performance by Ronnie Rowe, Jr.), a former childhood Regent Park friend of Jung’s, who is now a cop in Regent Park.  Janet is aware that her father will not be in favour of this romance.

Additionally, Jean Yoon reprises her original stage role as Umma, the matriarch of the Kim family while she is on hiatus from the CBC production where she continues her role.  Although Umma is subservient to her husband, she continues to meet Jung weekly at the Church.  Ms. Yoon’s performance moves the audience to tears many times.  One occurs in the brief song in Korean she shares with Jung in his first entrance.  No matter the difficulties Umma, Appa or Janet may have with Jung, Umma lives and breathes that family always comes first no matter what especially when a grandchild enters the picture.

Along with three other plays and musical performances, KIM’S CONVENIENCE will travel to New York City in July 2017 for four weeks of programming at Off Broadway’s Pershing Square Signature Centre, 480 W. 42nd Street.  SOULPEPPER ON 42ND STREET-CANADA CROSSES THE BORDER is a celebration of the company’s 20th anniversary and of Canada’s 150th birthday.  KIM’S CONVENIENCE is a true celebration and recognition of one element of our Canadian culture.  We have people in Canada who come to this country who do want to work hard, who do want to make a difference and who want to put values of family and faith first.

KIM’S CONVENIENCE continues to March 4 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District, 50 Tank House Lane.  Visit soulpepper.ca or telephone 1-416-866-8666 for ticket information. Photo: Jean Yoon and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee by Cylla von Tiedemann.

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