Kim’s convenience—from Fringe to mainstream Reply

Review by Mark Andrew Lawrence

Soulpepper Theatre launches its 2012 season with Kim’s Convenience by local author Ins Choi who describes the play as “a love letter to his family and to all 1st generation immigrants who call Canada their home.” It is a play filled with passion, honest sentiment and a good deal of humour. Thanks to remarkably understated direction by Weyni Mengesha, it succeeds because in a very short time the audience starts to care about these people and wants to know what will happen to them.

Kim’s Convenience was first seen last summer at the Fringe Festival where thanks to word-of-mouth it very quickly sold out its entire run, sparking a bidding war amongst Toronto’s commercial theatre producers.  Appropriately, since Choi is an alumnus of the Soulpepper Academy, that company won the rights to produce the play.

We should all be eternally grateful to Soulpepper for giving us the chance to experience the excitement of a new voice emerging onto our local theatre scene.

Choi’s play is frequently funny, at times quite touching. Taking us through a day in Mr. Kim’s Convenience store in Regent Park, we see Kim interacting with customers, family and friends. His hopes, his fears and above all his desire to see his daughter (and his estranged son) ultimately take over the family business provide the framework for this remarkable piece.  Kim has justifiable pride in the small successful business he has established, and he is not about to surrender it just anyone.

Paul Sun-Hyng Lee gives a mesmerizing performance as Mr.  Kim. Rarely off-stage or away from his post at the cash register, his hawk-like attention to detail, coupled with his own prejudices, helps him determine which of the customers who visit his store are likely to steal. It may be a rudimentary version of racial profiling, but when he apprehends a would-be thief, even his daughter, Janet, played by Esther Jun, has to admit his suspicions were correct. Jun has some powerfully feisty scenes with her father, but turns on an almost comical flirtatious charm when she meets up with Alex, an old flame who is now a cop on the beat in the neighborhood. Cle Bennett plays Alex and in a variety of sharply drawn cameos- plays all of the other customers who stop by the store.

At the core of the play is the story of the prodigal son- Jung (played here by the author) who took off some fifteen years ago; taking a large part of his father’s carefully built-up fortune with him. Now, as a young father, he wants to re-establish ties with the family from whom he ran away. The most touching moments occur in the scenes showing his surreptitious meetings with Jean Yoon as his mother. The story of how they are losing their church to developers – and hence the one place where they can meet each week – will break your heart.

The play ends not so much with a resolution but a feeling that there is more story to tell.  It could become the basis of a TV series, or like David French’s Mercer Family plays, perhaps part of an ongoing cycle of plays. I, for one, would happily return to spend another day at Kim’s Convenience, which plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. 55 Mill St. until Feb. 11th. Call 416-866-8666 for tickets. http://www.soulpepper.ca,

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