by Lynn on September 7, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the 1000 Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont. Plays until Sept. 18, 2022.

Written by Ins Choi

Directed by Esther Jun

Set and costumes by Julia Kim

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound designer and composer, Maddie Bautista

Cast: Frank Chung

Cameron Grant

Jane Luk

Kelly Seo

James Yi

Background. Kim’s Convenience is Ins Choi’s first play. He began writing it in 2005 as part of the Fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company Playwrights’ Unit and continued to develop it over the next several years. In 2010 Ins Choi sent the play to various Toronto theatres that rejected it. He submitted the play for the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival and won the New Play Contest. From there it was remounted by Soulpepper, toured the country and was made into a television series of the CBC. There have been awards along the way.

The play is a bittersweet immigrant story; of trying to fit in to a new life but still honouring the traditions of one’s culture; and of forgiveness.

Mr. Kim (‘Appa’ in the program which means ‘Father’ in Korean) has owned and operated his convenience store for 30 years. He is thinking of passing it on to his daughter Janet (Kelly Seo) to run. She has helped often in the store, while also going to school to be an artist. That is where her heart is—to be an artist.

There is a son, Jung (Frank Chung) but he’s estranged from his father and they haven’t talked in months. Jung talks to his mother, (‘Umma’ in Korean), often going to church with her. He regrets the rift with his father and longs to come home and finally does.  

Mr. Kim has a polite, but distant relationship with his customers, all played with careful variation and detail by Cameron Grant. Mr. Kim also has a rather prickly, commanding relationship with Janet. He expects her to be a dutiful, obedient daughter, and she balks at his obstreperousness. She also would like to be paid for her time working in the store. There is dandy exchange between father and daughter about the actual economics of the situation.

Julia Kim has designed a set (and the costumes) that reminds us of every convenience store we have ever been in, because there is a set design and layout to these stores. Because Mr. Kim is meticulous, the shelves are stocked and neat.

James Yi as Appa is agile, a bit stooped from age and wear but a man who is in charge. His timing is impeccable; his gruffness is part of his humour as is his watchfulness. He seems to have a keen sense of who is shoplifting from his store. The banter between James Yi as Appa and Kelly Seo as Janet is particularly bracing. They lob insults and stand their ground with grace and finesse.

Jane Luk as Umma plays the quiet peace-maker in the family. She is burdened with the rift between her husband and her son. She is aware of the prickliness between her daughter and husband. She has to keep the peace for all of them.

As Jung, Frank Chung has a sweetness mixed with the guilt of what he did to cause the rift. He is trying to make amends. When he comes home, he makes suggestions to his father about the store. Suddenly new possibilities arise for Mr. Kim and the future of the store.

Esther Jun has directed this with efficiency and a sensitivity that doesn’t over play scenes. Each character is well drawn and nicely played. While Ins Choi has created a family drama with all sorts of complications, he solves each one neatly, but not too neatly.

Kim’s Convenience is Ins Choi’s first play so we cut him some slack.  The play is partially autobiographical in that Ins Choi came to Canada with his family from Korea and his parents earned a living by working in an uncle’s convenience store. We all recognize our own family dramas in the Kim’s family drama.

I also loved the fact that the land acknowledgement was given in Korean and English by Jane Luk and Frank Chung before the show began. Very moving.  

Thousand Islands Playhouse presents:

Plays until: Oct. 18, 2022.

Running Time: 80 minutes (no intermission)

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.