I was completely charmed by Kim’s Convenience, a Soulpepper Theatre production that’s the first play in the new Citadel Theatre season. The Shoctor stage was filled with an extremely detailed accurate reproduction of an independent convenience store, from the wall of hidden cigarettes to the trays of scratch lottery tickets, the cartons of extra random things by the cash register for impulse purchase, and the various signs crowded on to the wall. One scene shift late in the show is done effectively with a light change and illumination of a set piece I hadn’t noticed earlier.
The store owner (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) shuffles in with the cash-register drawer and methodically readies the store for opening, sweetening his coffee and dusting off the scratch-ticket trays in practised routine. At this point I realised that I knew about the setting but I actually didn’t know anything about what the plot was going to be. The story that developed wasn’t very surprising, but it was very well done. Janet (Chantelle Han) is the 30-year-old single daughter of the store owner and his wife (Jane Luk) known as Appa and Amma, (Korean for Dad and Mum). Andre Sills plays various Black members of the neighbourhood: store customers, a real estate agent, and a police officer who grew up with Janet and with Janet’s brother Jung, the one who is Not Spoken Of. As I had not read the program carefully before the show started, having been lost in conversation with my theatregoing companions, I was surprised when Jung (Dale Yim) appeared on stage (I’d thought he might be dead or in jail instead of estranged).
I thought the script (by Ins Choi of Toronto) made good use of the different accents and language use of the Korean-Canadian immigrant parents and their Canadian-born children. When the parents are speaking to each other in present-day situations they speak Korean, although there is one set of reminiscences where they are speaking about the past to each other and the audience in English. When Appa speaks to his daughter or to other characters, his speech is sometimes hard to understand the first time around. The rephrasing and repetition and the ways his daughter helps him express himself in English feel authentic and add to the picture of how things work in this family. Appa has a long routine teaching Janet about classifying people into the ones who steal and the ones who don’t steal, which gets interspersed with Janet’s horrified facial expressions and comments showing how offensive the whole profiling concept is. As an audience member, I was completely on Janet’s side – it is awful, but it’s also awfully funny. Janet’s attempts at trying to catch her father in conflicting prejudices (“Okay, what if it was a fat, gay, Asian guy?” “There are no fat Asian gay guys! Only skinny Asian guys are gay!”) make it ridiculous enough that it’s safe to laugh at, and they also get Janet’s father to laugh at himself a bit too.
Kim’s Convenience continues at the Citadel until October 11th, with tickets available on line. I liked it a lot. The other night I watched a lot of excited young people gathering for a Students Club performance, and I thought that it would probably be powerful for people with immigrant parents and grandparents.