Review by Judith Robinson
Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience is a stunning masterpiece – a speeding train that never stops until Soulpepper’s production of this one act, full length comedy concludes ninety minutes later. The conductor, who keeps the train moving, is Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who has played the role of convenience store owner, Appa, in every production since the play’s origins at the fringe festival, in Toronto, in 2011. He has now given over 400 performances in 10 Canadian cities – and starred in the successful spin off last fall, on CBC TV. The show has already been renewed for next season. Photo courtesy of Cylla von Tiedemann
This is a dysfunctional family – Korean style. The show contains all the usual elements of a dysfunctional family: the overbearing father; the long-suffering wife, Umma, played by Jean Yoon; the rebellious, ungrateful daughter, Janet, played by Rosie Simon and the scapegoat son, Jung, played by Richard Lee.
The most poignant scenes are between father and daughter. Fireworks explode between Simon and Lee every time they appear on stage together. Ronnie Rowe Jr. provides some great laughs as Janet’s beau, the shy police officer, Alex. Richard Lee, as the son, creates an interesting on stage presence, but the playwright has not written sufficient father/son scenes to fully develop his character – the same with, Yoon, the mother.
In the shop owner, Appa’s frustrations, the viewers gain an understanding of what it’s like to run the same store for more than thirty years, doing the same thing day in day out, fighting thieves, disciplining ungrateful children, struggling to learn the language, trying to build community in a strange land, and hanging on to the history of his people with dignity and pride.
Ken MacKenzie’s set and Lorenzo Savoini’s lighting created the authentic ambiance of a variety store. The audience was immediately transported to a familiar space – the tiny store down the block in most Canada towns – often run by immigrants who don’t have the skills to take a job anywhere else.
Kim’s Convenience gives the audience a fresh take on Korean culture – as opposed to Japanese or Chinese or any other Asian ethnic persuasion. The nuances are tactile and riveting. It’s not hard to believe that Korean born, Choi, spent 10 years writing this play. The subtleties are what make it great – his precise depiction of the prejudices and biases, the style of martial arts, the food choices, the family and religious traditions and the celebration of Korean heroes – north and south.
While some of this story is universal – the heartbreaking trend of the young to turn against the old – the wife lost in her husband’s shadow – the prodigal son – the struggle to maintain a culture in a strange land. This show’s uniqueness is in its ability to translate so much information about Korean culture in a way that doesn’t seem like pedagogy.
And although the audience laughed all through the performance, a deep meaning and significance was conveyed beneath the brevity. Audience members now understand much more of what it means to be Korean. Kim’s Convenience is playing at Toronto’s Young Centre until March 4.
Editor’s Note: The ARTS REVIEW critiqued the original opening of Kim’s Convenience back on the 23rd of Jan. 2012, staged by ‘Soulpepper’!