Arts & Culture

The solid piece of professional theatre that started it all

By Lorraine Graves

Published 4:26 PDT, Fri September 14, 2018

“Kim’s Convenience,” the play that sparked the TV series, is an evening very well-spent. The humour, the writing, the timing and the acting are spot on. The depth of Ins Choi’s writing in “Kim’s Convenience” surprised me.

Not being familiar with the broadcast series, I didn’t know what to expect. To be honest, I was expecting something that traded in racist stereotypes and quick laughs. While there was lots of laughter, and a few Korean accents, this show played on the heart strings with deft strokes of pathos and humour. The culture clash offers as much compassion as humour.

Choi’s play touches on many issues we grapple with: gentrification, cultural enclaves, the shuttering of long-standing churches, and the culture conflict between immigrant parents and their Canadian kids.

It is the story of aging Korean immigrant parents, the Kim’s, who have run a convenience store for decades. Add their two adult children to the mix, then a former high school friend of the grown-up offspring and a couple of bit parts. More about the bit parts later.

The father, Appa, played by Jame Yi, left it all behind in Korea to work hard to make a better future for his children, born in Canada. His wife, Umma, played by Maki Yi, his helpmate, raised the children and is devoted to her Korean church, where the children went to Sunday school.

The son, Jung, played by Lee Shorten, is absent for most of the play but his character is the elephant in the room. He left in anger after a big fight with his father. Each parent deals with their hurt and loss in their own way: Appa through righteous anger and Umma through her church where she sometimes sneaks off to see the errant son, a son of such promise who made bad choices as a teenager that haunt him in adult life.

Add to this mix Mike, an old high school chum of the son, who re-enters the family’s life as a cop responding to a call. The little girl, adult Janet played by Jessie Liang, who once adored him is now all grown up, and quite beautiful.

Touching love and hilarity result as Appa’s traditional views on dating are mixed with his ESL bluntness about a young man’s intentions.

Then there is Tré Cotton, who plays Mike. So different were his portrayals of the additional bit parts of Alex, Mr. Lee and Rich, that it took the third character’s appearance before I twigged to it being the same actor. He’s good.

Under director Kaitlin Williams, the timing is spot on and the acting often subtle even to the point where Appa accidentally knocks a piece of paper off the store’s counter during a scene it seems incidental, unnoticed but later, turns out to be key to the story.

The set is spot-on and adaptable. Most of the action takes place in the store, Kim’s Convenience, but the scene in the Korean church works well with minimal alterations.

The one thing that didn’t work was the flashback between the parents. I was confused because it wasn’t clear that it was a flashback until the end of the scene.

The lighting was unobtrusive, adding and enhancing the mood and setting without being noticeable on its own. The set and lighting worked hand in hand to mark the location and time of day.

The sound was crisp and clear. Pacific Theatre performs in an alley-shaped theatre with the action on the ground level and the audience seating raked up either side. They make it work magnificently. I have been to performances in similar theatres where one side feels short-changed at least half the time. No such issue here. The company played to the whole house, both sides, all the time. We felt we had a window onto the life of the Kims and their acquaintances.

The costumes were appropriate and in the case of Cotton’s four characters, made the characters utterly different even before he opened his mouth. His body language completed each different character.

The work of fight director, Mike Kovac, offered a subtle but key part of the plot development. The action was believable, and even humorous at times, without being over-the-top or gratuitous.

This is a play about the prodigal son, redemption, and most of all, love in all its forms. The subtitle to Kim’s Convenience could be “What I did for love.” Sometimes hope and reconciliation looks like a Korean convenience store.

Kim’s Convenience at Pacific Theatre, pathos and humour written and presented with great skill.

Runs at Pacific Theatre until Oct 6.

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