by Lynn on January 24, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Written by Ins Choi. Directed by Weyni Mengesha. Designed by Ken MacKenzie. Lighting by Lorenzo Savoini. Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne. Starring: Clé Bennett, Ins Choi, Esther Jun, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Jean Yoon.

Produced by Soulpepper Theatre Company

The charmed life of KIM’S CONVENIENCE continues. Ins Choi’s beautifully written play ran at the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival where it won the Best New Play Award, the Patron’s Pick and one of the Best of the Fringe spots. It opened Soulpepper’s 15 season earlier in the month.

KIM’S CONVENIENCE celebrates the travails, hopes, dreams and humour of the immigrant experience, in this case the Korean immigrant’s experience. But it could be anyone from another country who comes to Canada seeking a better life.

Mr. Kim and his family have owned and run a convenience store in Regent’s Park since they arrived in Canada years before. He knows his customers. He knows about their families and they know his.

The area is set to be re-developed and Mr. Kim is faced with being bought out or passing the store to his daughter Janet. She doesn’t want it. She is a trained photographer and wants to lead her own life. There is a son name Jung who left years before when he had an argument with his father that landed the son in the hospital.

Mr. Kim is an angry, obstreperous, blinkered, prejudiced man with no sense of humour but is absolutely hilarious and touching in his anger, obstreperousness and prejudice. He tells Janet who is likely to steal from the store and who is not. She tries to reason with this bull-headed philosophy. Sometimes she wins and sometimes she doesn’t.

The combination of playwright Ins Choi’s turn of phrase and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee’s (as Mr. Kim) fractured accent and pronunciation make Mr. Kim endearing, exasperating and noble. Pau Sun-Hyung Lee gives a full-bodied, open-hearted performance that is makes us both wary and charmed. As Janet Esther Jun has the body language of a character who belongs in her own world—easy, confident, proud. Her Janet stands up to Kim with feistiness and love. In various parts from a cop to a young jiving man who steals from the store Clé Bennett shifts from character to character with ease and conviction. As Mrs. Kim, Jean Yoon is often irritated with her husband, but totally supportive of both her children—her daughter who stayed and her wayward son who she sees on the sly. And as Jung Ins Choi is that wonderful combination of a man who is lost but is brave enough to know where he has to go to find his place again. All give lovely performances.

Director Weyni Mengesha directs with a sure hand that keeps the balance between the irascible Mr. Kim and the more touching, emotional moments. There is a lot that is moving about the play but Mengesha doesn’t go for the easy emotionally manipulative stuff.

Ken MacKenzie has designed the perfect convenience store, complete with the lack of logic in product placement—the Pringles are not in the same row as the bags of potato chips; nor are the nuts and other snacks you would think would be all together. I checked my local (Korean) convenience store. Darned if the Pringles are not in the same row as the bags of chips. Not to be too minging though, I would expect that the open boxes of chocolate bars in the front would not be so perfectly full. It would seem that Mr. Kim didn’t have any customers who bought things. And we know he did.

In his program note, Ins Choi says that KIM’S CONVENIENCE is his love-letter to his immigrant parents and all 1st generation immigrants who came to Canada for a better life. It’s a beautiful tribute. See this play.

KIM’S CONVENIENCE plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until February 11.

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