Soulpepper’s production of Kim’s Convenience, written by Ins Choi and directed by Weyni Mengesha, offers a look at a day in the life of the Kim family, Korean owners of a Toronto convenience store.
Better known as the CBC sitcom of the same name, which was based on the original stage production that premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival, Kim’s Convenience makes its latest Canadian stop at Montreal’s Segal Centre for Performing Arts.
Following a day in the life of Mr. Kim, who must come to terms with the lives of his rebellious adult children and the developing city around him, this production successfully uses humor to portray the Canadian immigrant’s struggle, but lacks balance in its storyline and emotional arch.
The audience enters the auditorium to a very familiar sight: a typical convenience store complete with neat rows of snack foods, tiled floors, and a counter displaying lottery tickets, a set that is perfect in its imperfections and that gave us the impulse to purchase a chocolate bar. Mr. Kim, otherwise known as Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), enters the store, and as the day begins to unfold we quickly learn of his prejudice towards black men, who he assumes will steal from him, and his strong opposition to any products of Japanese origin.
Enter his 30-year-old daughter Janet (Rosie Simon), a photographer who has worked in her father’s store pro bono for most of her life. Appa is sure that Janet, as his child, owed it to him to work for several hours a day for many years, but as much as he expects that she should agree to take over his store so that he can retire, Janet is equally as stubborn in believing that the reason her parents immigrated to Canada was so that she could have the freedom to choose what to do with her life.
But this isn’t the only struggle in the Kims’ lives; living in the developing Regent Park neighbourhood of Toronto, condos are popping up all around them, a Walmart is soon to appear, providing serious competition, and their church is about to close its doors.
Additionally, we learn that the Kims’ son, Jung (Richard Lee) left home many years ago at the age of 16 after butting heads with his father. Appa and Janet have not heard from him since, but he has been meeting up secretly with his mother, Umma (Jean Yoon), with whom he discusses his dissatisfaction with his job and relationship and shares photos of his two-month-old son.
Rounding out the cast is Ronnie Rowe Jr., who plays four different visitors to the store, most notably Alex the police officer, previously known to the Kim family as the childhood friend of Jung, who has suddenly reappeared in their lives and taken new notice of the now grown-up Janet.
With a humor that is focused on Appa’s proud character and poor English, resulting in many miscommunications, Kim’s Convenience has us laughing throughout and simultaneously sympathizing with Appa.
Honest emotional acting in moving arguments with Janet exposes us to the reality of the sacrifices Appa has made in order for his children to have a better life, and shows a disconnect between the expectations he has for his children and the desires they have for themselves. Janet’s growing resentment of the work she has done for her father over the years results in a captivating heated argument in which she attempts to add up the cost of her labour, only to have her father subtract the prices of everything he has ever provided for her.
To keep things light-hearted, Appa also hilariously becomes a bit too involved in Janet’s love life, questioning the marriage potential of Alex after the two go on only one date. The one-liners and occasional slapstick comedy make it no wonder that Kim’s Convenience has succeeded as a television sitcom adaptation.
While the relationship between Appa and Janet is well developed, the storyline of Jung’s estrangement from his family, which certainly pulls at our heartstrings, is unfortunately overshadowed. Additionally, Umma serves mostly to support Jung’s rushed story development, resulting in the audience hardly getting to know her character beyond being a quirky lady who cares deeply for her children. An 85 minute run may not provide enough time for the satisfying inclusion of Jung’s storyline, with too much potential plot content that begs to be fleshed out.
Along with his set design, Ken MacKenzie’s costumes are perfectly typical, with Appa and Umma dressed in the casual attire of a low income family, and Janet standing out in her more stylish clothing, showing her more creative lifestyle. Rowe Jr. is initially unrecognizable in his four different characters, thanks to the drastically different costumes as well as his superb changes in posture, mannerisms, and accent. The lighting (Lorenzo Savoini) and sound (Thomas Ryder Payne) are solid, with one scene’s use of spotlights and echoing, tin-like sound distortion providing a break from the continuous convenience store setting to bring the audience into alternate times in the Kims’ lives.
A show about Korean-Canadian immigrants, Kim’s Convenience will be enjoyed by more than just the obvious target audience; anyone who comes from a family that immigrated to Canada within the last couple of generations, no matter what their culture, might find they connect with the themes of the Canadian immigrant’s experience. Despite an imbalance in its storylines and the underdevelopment of some characters, Kim’s Convenience is a moving and laugh-out-loud funny story about a cultural group that has finally found a place in the world of Canadian theatre.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Contributor Veronica Schnitzer
Where: Segal Centre (5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine Rd. H3W 1M7)When: March 8th to 19th, 2017
Running Time: 85 minutes (no intermission)Admission: $60 General Admission; $54 Seniors; $35 Under 30; $24.50 StudentsBox Office: 514-739-7944 | segalcentre.org
BY Ins Choi
DIRECTOR Weyni Mengesha
SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER Ken MacKenzie
LIGHTING DESIGNER Lorenzo Savoini
SOUND DESIGNER Thomas Ryder Payne
FIGHT DIRECTOR Sean Baek
REMOUNT FIGHT DIRECTOR Casey Hudecki
ALEXANDER COACH Kelly McEvenue
STAGE MANAGER Kat Chin
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER Danielle Skene
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Richard Lee, Ronnie Rowe Jr., Rosie Simon, Jean Yoon
For more information on the CBC Original Series, visit: www.cbc.ca/kimsconvenience/