by Robert Colman
Written by Ins Choi
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
Michael Young Theatre,
Kim’s Convenience made its debut at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2011. Since then, the Soulpepper Theatre has toured the play across Canada to glowing reviews. Its return to Toronto is a welcome one for theatregoers in the city looking for an experience that is both heart-felt and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.
The main focus of the play is Mr. Kim, the owner of the titular Regent Park convenience store who, early in the play’s action, is offered a large sum to sell his property to a developer. What ensues is an exploration of family obligation, generational/cultural divides, and what both sides of this divide can learn from one another.
The character of Mr. Kim, played deftly by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, is a larger-than-life patriarch with great pride in his Korean birthplace and an ingrained hatred of all things Japanese—in fact, he calls the police whenever he sees a Japanese car illegally parked in front of his store. Mr. Kim’s intolerance in this and other respects is played primarily for laughs throughout the play to great effect. But it’s Lee’s ability to capture effectively the many emotions that course through his character—high dudgeon, love of family, pride—that make the play. Lee embodies the character perfectly—from the minute he walks on stage to open the convenience store, humming a song, slotting lottery tickets in their plexiglas countertop sleeves, shuffling along in his slippers in an utterly believable manner.
Mr. Kim’s daughter, Janet (played by Chantelle Han), is the main foil for our protagonist throughout the play. Once Mr. Kim receives the offer for his store, he suddenly wants his daughter to take over the business. This is one plot point that feels forced, but in the ensuing face-off of father and daughter, it is easy to forget the implausibility. The arguments and complications that arise throughout their sparring—the best of which may have been a totting up of who owes whom more in their thirty years of give and take—are in turns engaging, hilarious, and emotionally fraught. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels that the character of Janet is there simply to react to her Appa.
A looming presence behind the whole play is Mr. Kim’s son, Jung (Dale Yim), who ran away from home at 16 after being badly beaten by his father. His appearance at the end of the play—no real surprise—is a strangely abrupt bookend, but also made sense in some ways. The sister does the heavy lifting in educating their father about the generational divide, and it culminates in this arrival. Of all elements of the play, this is what I imagine theatregoers arguing over most after the fact—is it too tidy a conclusion in such a short play?
And no review of the play can fail to mention the set, designed by Ken MacKenzie, which is a remarkable reproduction of any convenience store you might walk into in Toronto. It looks as if it were simply cut out and transplanted to the stage. It is worth visiting Soulpepper to argue with companions over the nuances of this play. The pace never lags, and Lee’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
Kim’s Convenience runs until December 28th 2014. Click here for information and tickets.
Robert Colman is a writer and editor based in Newmarket, Ont. He is the author of two books of poetry – Little Empires (Quattro Books) and The Delicate Line (Exile Editions). A third collection is forthcoming from Frog Hollow Press in 2015.