The 2011 Fringe hit Kim’s Convenience takes to the stage at Toronto’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts
Every once in a while something comes along, seemingly out of the blue, that strikes a chord across generations, ethnic backgrounds and geographic locations. Kim’s Convenience, currently onstage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery District, is one of those rare gems.
Fresh off a national tour, Kim’s Convenience originally began as a Fringe play in 2011. On the surface it is the simple story of a Korean-run corner store in Toronto’s Regent Park. On a deeper level, it’s a timeless exploration of the nuances that make families so loved, hated, relatable and universal.
As other reviewers have noted, the stage of Kim’s Convenience doesn’t just resemble a convenience store: it IS a convenience store. As an audience member, we’re transported out of the theatre and into the shop. If you are anything like me, you’ll want to hop up on stage and pick up a few bags of prop potato chips as the play begins.
As somebody raised by television, I can’t help but be reminded of the classic American television program All in the Family. However, while we all loved to hate Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker, I think we all love to love Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) in Kim’s Convenience.
Appa is opinionated, masculine and extremely “old school”. Like Archie Bunker, there’s a loveable roughness about him that reminds me of my father. English isn’t Appa’s first language, so he tends to use simple words and speak simple truths. So I suppose dads can be the same, whether they are living in Queens in the early 70s or Regent Park in the 80s.
Playwright Ins Choi has worked long and hard developing Kim’s Convenience and it shows. Originally a vignette and years in the making, Kim’s Convenience is composed of well-developed characters. They are flawed but we can relate to them. They are likeable.
Of the many highlights, I think I enjoyed the heated conversations/arguments between father and daughter the most. Chantelle Han plays Janet, Appa’s energetic, opinionated daughter. In the hands of Han, Janet is full of energy and exuberance, certainly one of the apples that has fallen off of the Kim tree.
While discussing Kim’s Convenience, Ins Choi speaks of traveling across Canada as a boy with his father trying to make contact with locals in broken English. That’s the sort of heartfelt authenticity that makes up Kim’s Convenience. You won’t hear the type of language you might hear at a job interview when you go see this play.
It’s not quite David Mamet-type conversations, but then again we’re dealing with Korean immigrants in one of Canada’s poorest neighborhoods, not well-to-do white professionals in American suburbs.
My friend Stan joined me for the evening. Stan is a 60-something white Canadian of British Isles heritage. His cultural references are a little different than my own, but he loved Kim’s Convenience more than I did. So obviously you don’t have to be a new Canadian from Asia to enjoy this play. And trust me, Stan loved this play!
Like a corner store that everyone loves you might find yourself returning to Kim’s Convenience over and over. There’s a familiarity, a “homecoming” quality to the play that few can resist. But get your tickets ASAP. Kim’s Convenience may be well stocked with great writing and acting, but tickets sell fast. Don’t get caught looking at bare shelves when you want theatre tickets!
- Kim’s Convenience is playing until December 28 November 28 at Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane)
- Shows run Tuesday through Sunday at 8:00 PM with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:00 PM
- Tickets range from $29 (students) to $89 with rush tickets available at $5-$23
- Tickets are available online, at the door or by calling 416-866-8666
Photo of Chantelle Han and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee by Epic Photography