My folks never ran a convenience store. They remained resolutely Buddhist in their faith. They even distanced themselves from the Korean community in town, uncomfortable with the the men’s penchant for drink and the women’s need to measure themselves (and their kids, clothes and kimchi) against each other.
And yet the play I saw at the Young Theatre this weekend was intimately familiar. I’m glad I got to see it live. I’ve read the play twice but it can only hint at how good the real deal is. It’s making the rounds so if you get the chance – check it out. It is everything I want from a play. So freaking good!
Kim’s Convenience is the Toronto based, Korean run convenience store the story centers on. The set design is immediately familiar. It is every family owned corner store you’ve ever been in with it’s peg board assortment of items hanging by the cigarette wall. Condoms next to scouring sponges. Metal shelves lead to the back holding off-brand paper towels and odd cans of food.
Paul Sun-Hyng Lee is the titular Mr. Kim who is the core of the play itself. He is a huge presence on stage and ably anchor’s the show. He owns this character and maintains the perfect tone throughout. It’s no easy task playing for broad laughs and then to big emotions. He’s physical and expressive without devolving into caricature. He is Appa.
If I had to complain, it’s only to say that Mr. Kim sounds like a white person riffing a Korean accent. Maybe they clipped it to allow for better apprehension. While he is every Korean dad – he just doesn’t quite sound like them. Jean Yoon on the other hand is pitch perfect. Her love of singing, deep wells of quiet strength battling against sorrow, her warbling voice modulated by emotion. It’s a small part but she mines it for gold and nails it.
It’s a tightly packed gem of a play. Maybe too tight – as one reviewer notes: “it could be accused of sacrificing truth to reconciliation” and it wraps up and resolves itself in a brief third act. It’s like every Korean made piece of electronics – smaller, faster, familiar. It’s still absolutely brilliant.
Ins Choi’s play is a love letter to his folks “and to all first-generation immigrants who call Canada their home.” …and it joins Clerks as my all time favorite piece of art staged in a convenience store.