Review: Kim’s Convenience (Soulpepper)

Performers in "Kim's Convenience"Kim’s Convenience is at times funny, emotional, and heartfelt, on stage in Toronto

Kim’s Convenience returns to the stage in Soulpepper‘s funny, heartfelt, and timely production. The members of the Kim family rise to meet their challenges — whether in the form of interpersonal tension or the gentrification of their neighbourhood — with an admirable combination of humour and heart. It’s surely impossible not to laugh all the way through, and perhaps shed a tear at the end.

Kim’s Convenience was extremely funny; in particular, Appa (the delightful Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) displayed a winning zest for life that was the source of many comedic moments. At the same time, much of the humour stemmed from serious social issues: Appa’s Korean accent, the racial profiling of thieves, and relationships between people of colour and the police. It is a true testament to the quality of this play that it made me laugh, feel, and think at the same time.

Although comedy dominated the tone, this play’s treatment of serious questions always felt true to life. Characters had difficult conversations about legacy, duty, and family, but they were always conducted in a way that felt honest. To take a minor example, when police officer Alex (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) had his picture taken by childhood friend Janet (Rosie Simon), he reacted by saying “Wow, I look so artsy.” I found that reaction to be very realistic, neither under- nor overstated.

Like many comedies, there is a certain amount of coincidence operating in this play. I was skeptical about the idea that Alex and Janet happened to be childhood friends, and found it especially hard to believe that she had maintained a crush on him without seeing him for the past twenty years. However, the subsequent gentle awkwardness and earnestness of their courtship felt so authentic that I was able to forgive their convenient backstory.

One particularly striking moment was the short a cappella duet between Jung (Richard Lee) and Umma (Jean Yoon). I found their tenderness very revealing. But the most powerful moment, in my opinion, was the argument between Appa and Janet about taking out the garbage; by the end of that scene, it felt as though the whole audience was holding their breath.

As the daughter of an immigrant myself, many of the themes struck especially close to home. I felt that the central conflict of this play was resolved a little too neatly at the end, but I was glad for the happy ending regardless. My friend Avnee and I both admitted to feeling quite emotional during certain moments.

Overall, the combination of thoughtful staging, truthful writing, and heartfelt acting make for a winning, not-to-be-missed production. Before the play began, Avnee was already praising the set’s attention to detail: the worn counter, the smudged window glass, the neat rows of chip bags and chocolate bars. “It feels like a real convenience store, cut in half,” she said. It felt like a real family, too.

Details:

  • Kim’s Convenience is playing until March 4, 2017, at Soulpepper Theatre, located inside the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane)
  • Shows run Monday through Saturday at 8 pm, with matinees on select dates; see show calendar
  • Ticket prices are $32 – $89; Artsworker & StagePlay (Under 30): $20; Rush tickets: $25 / $5 youth ID required for student/StagePlay/ArtsWorker (All prices include 13% HST and service charge)
  • Tickets are available online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666

Photo of Jean Yoon and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee by Cylla von Tiedemann

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