Moving acting, immaculate set, and insightful story at Kim’s Convenience

Soulpepper Production’s Kim’s Convenience was a fantastic way for the Citadel Theatre to open their 49 season.  Kim’s Convenience is a snappy, engaging and moving rendition of the story of a first-generation Canadian family, that many Canadians can relate to on any number of levels.

Kim’s Convenience is Appa’s story. Appa who immigrated from Korea to Canada with his wife. Appa who opened a convenience store and worked all day every weekday and weekend so that he and his wife could raise a daughter (Janet, played by Chantelle Han) and son (Jung, played by Dale Yim). Appa who, after 30-some years in Canada, finds himself with a large offer to purchase his store and without any children who want to take over the store and continue the Kim’s Convenience dynasty.

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee gave a knock-out performance in the lead role of Appa. In Appa’s role as a father in his late 50’s, it wouldn’t have been natural for him to freely express his emotions in the dialogue, however, Paul elevated Ins Choi’s already stellar script to another level by using his body to viscerally express Appa’s emotions. We could almost feel the tenseness in his body every time he was reminded that his children didn’t want to take over the family store. It was incredibly moving to see Appa, who has been so strong and made so many sacrifices for his family, struggle both physically and verbally to express himself and his ultimate desires for his family. Another aspect of Paul’s performance that heightened the emotional connection with the audience was his facial expressions, and particularly his eyes. What’s so incredible about connecting to a theatre actor through their eyes though is that… they’re on stage! In a world where we watch so many movies and TV shows with their tight close-ups and soft focus and post-production changes I think we automatically take for granted that up close and personal connection with actors that requires such skill to reproduce on stage.

I also enjoyed Chantelle Han’s portrayal of daughter Janet. As Janet, Chantelle perfectly mirrors the fiery way Paul Sun-Hyung Lee plays Appa. In the heated exchanges between father and daughter, you can see that Chantelle and Paul have mastered their on-stage chemistry and the delicate relationship you find in family businesses. Both characters love each other intensely, and their love makes their conflicts that much more intense. One of my favourite scenes was where both Janet and Appa add up how much they owe each other since Janet’s birth – accumulated in Janet’s work in the store and Appa’s provision of music lessons, art camp, food from the store & etc. I loved the back-and-forth rhythm and power struggle between Chantelle and Paul in this scene, which did a great job of showing the dynamics of what it’s like to be involved in a family business in a way that those who haven’t had the experience could understand.

Supporting actors Jane Luk (the calming wife Umma), Dale Kim (prodigal son Jung), and the ever-so-flexible Andre Sills (various customers, a real estate agent, and a police officer) were also great in their roles and really rounded out the dynamic that I found so interesting between Appa and Janet.

My review wouldn’t be complete without at least a little gushing over Ken MacKenzie’s set. I had read previous reviews that mentioned how immaculate the set was, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It was as if the convenience store downstairs in my apartment building had been transported to the Citadel’s stage, even down to the handmade sign on neon green paper. I also really enjoyed how flexible the set was when it seamlessly transformed from the store to a church.

And then there’s the story itself. As I said before, Ins Choi’s script is skillfully-crafted: unexpectedly hilarious, well-paced and, above all, has a sense of genuineness about the experience of a first-generation Canadian family. I’ve been excited about Kim’s Convenience since the Citadel’s season announcement as I’m increasingly interested in examining whose stories are being told on stage and by whom. It’s about time that Canada’s stages, and especially the large stages, started showing some diversity, not just in cast and crew, but in terms of the stories being told on them. Kim’s Convenience gives audiences not from first- or second-generation families some insight into scenarios unfolding in homes and businesses all across this country.

Kim’s Convenience totally deserved the standing ovation it received on the night I attended. The show runs until October 11, and I sincerely hope it sells out, because this is a story, a cast, and a set that everyone needs to see. Tickets are $31.50 – $84 and can be bought through the Citadel’s website.

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