By now, you’ve most likely encountered Ins Choi’s fantastic production of Kim’s Convenience, whether it was at the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival, a Soulpepper remounting, or the new CBC television show that premiered this past fall. It is incredible to know that such a show continues to please audiences after so many years, so much so that it’s headed to New York City as part of Soulpepper on 42nd St: Canada Crosses the Border.
This play about a Korean-Canadian family who owns a mom-and-pop convenience store in Toronto’s Regent Park is as timely as ever in this new age of Trump. Kim’s Convenience follows Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) as he struggles to accept that neither of his children (Rosie Simon and Richard Lee) wants to take over the shop after his retirement. The production is not only a celebration and examination of hardworking immigrant families in Canada, but it also speaks to the threat of gentrification and the impact it has on many Toronto communities.
Choi’s script is crisp and polished in its comedy, showing us the miscommunication resulting from language barriers, as seen when Appa attempts to speak and understand a customer’s inquiry about a tub of Vaseline. It also intriguingly depicts naturalistic moments of Appa completing his daily chores inside the store. We watch him fill up shelves with bags of chips and open the store in the morning, immersing us into a day in the life of Appa.
The show also has a lot of heart. Though the production is predominantly in English, it has moments when Korean is spoken between Appa and Umma (Jean Yoon), or during conversations they have with their children. Even though I do not understand Korean, it reminds me of my own family members yelling at one another in Portuguese during holiday dinners. These moments of the play engage us, invite us into the store, and allow for this family to be as authentic as possible.
Thomas Ryder Payne’s speeding car sounds buzz past our ears as we take our seats. Lorenzo Savoini’s warm golden hues indicate the rising and setting of the sun, and the church sequence is fashioned in a strong cathedral blue. Ken MacKenzie’s set is stagnant, aside from the church scene, but it is almost like an exhibition complete with candy on the shelves and OLG lottery signs on the window. The checkered floor, illuminated by overhead industrial lighting echos the feeling of small, family-owned Toronto convenience stores that show their age over time.
What makes Kim’s Convenience even more phenomenal is the performance of Paul Sun-Hyung Lee who has, as his artist note in the programme states, hit over 400 performances as Appa. He is exceptional with quick-witted timing, and the writing truly serves him as a character actor. He fluctuates from hilarious mischievousness to matching Rosie Simon’s strong-willed Janet in an intense argument. Four hundred performances in, Sun-Hyung Lee remarkably keeps Appa fresh, hysterical and relatable to new viewers of the production.
Kim’s Convenience plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until Mar. 4. For more information, visit soulpepper.ca.