The Toronto Fringe breakout hit plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre through the holidays
When you walk into the Bluma Appel Theatre for Soulpepper‘s production of Kim’s Convenience, you almost expect to hear a bell ring. That sense of authenticity — in both Ken MacKenzie’s set and several generous performances by a strong cast — pervades every element of this fun and engaging play about a Korean-Canadian family running a convenience store in Toronto’s soon-to-be-gentrified Regent Park.
Originally a hit at the Toronto Fringe Festival and later “Soulpeppered”, this remount arrives just prior to a planned television series. Clearly, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding this particular play, and for good reason: it’s instantly accessible, finding a winning balance between good-natured humour and complex character drama.
Not only is it a story about the immigrant experience in Canada, it’s also more broadly about parents and children, and the sacrifices that we’re often asked to make for family. I don’t have much in common with the Kims on paper, but there were several moments where I thought, “Oh, that’s my dad” or “Oh, that’s my sister” or felt some other pang of recognition. The play is so full of such authentic personalities and conflicts that it manages to strike that key note of universal relatability (though I imagine particularly so if you come from an immigrant family).
At the heart of the play is the relationship between Mr. Kim and his daughter, Janet. This was the plotline that struck closest to my heart, as the two equally headstrong father and daughter face off over which one ‘owes’ the other more. Both are forced to navigate their expectations and disappointments around their love for one another.
Chantelle Han plays Janet with subtle but unflinching strength, and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as the lovably brusque Mr. Kim (or ‘Appa’ as his children call him) is a complete gift, transitioning with such genuine humanity between all the humour, intelligence, prejudice and fear that this rich and likeable character possesses. He really is the soul of the play, and he shines in every moment he’s on stage.
Affecting but less fleshed out is the strained relationship between Appa and his estranged son, Jung (Patrick Kwok-Choon). The resolution to this plotline is emotionally engaging but feels over too quick compared to other storylines. It feels like there’s still more to say by the time the final lights drop.
That’s why doesn’t surprise me that this show has been optioned for a television series, because its compactness lends the play a sitcom-y feel (you know, a good one), one with the potential of more stories just waiting in the wings. I think it speaks to the richness of the characters and their dilemmas that I left the show wanting to spend more time with them.
I’ve already paid tribute to Ken MacKenzie’s set, but it bears repeating in more detail, as the convenience store practically serves as its own character. It has all the coffee-stained realism you could possibly expect from a corner store, including walls of chips and colourful impulse-buys nestled next to the ancient register.
Watching the play, I realized that I was enjoying one of the most responsive audiences I’ve heard in quite a while: they oohed, they awwwhed, they whispered jokes back to one another. It was a neat experience to see how tangled up in each emotional beat the audience seemed to be.
This is one of those productions where everything more or less just seems to come together. Do yourself a favour and check it out before the television series airs, for bragging rights if nothing else.
- Kim’s Convenience is playing at the St. Lawrence Centre (27 Front St. E) until January 3rd.
- Performances begin at 8:00pm, with frequent matinees beginning at 1:00pm and 2:00pm respectively.
- Ticket prices start at $29.50, with discounts on 4 or more tickets and are available online, by phone at 416.866.8666, or in person at the box office.
- Folks under 30 can get discounted tickets through Soulpepper’s StagePlay program. Also be aware of Soulpepper’s rush policy, which offers 5 dollar tickets to anyone under 21, one hour before the show, depending on availability.
- Recommended for ages 12 and up. Contains mature language.
Photo of Chantelle Han and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee by Bruce Monk.