KIM’S CONVENIENCE by Ins Choi (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (55 Mill). To February 11. $51-$68, stu $32, rush $5-$22. 416-866-8666. See listing. Rating: NNNNN
Ins Choi's Kim Convenience deserves to be open for business a long time. It sells a specific story with universal appeal, and it's as stomach-hurtingly funny as it is dramatic and moving.
Korean immigrant Mr. Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), known as Appa to his devout wife (Jean Yoon) and single daughter, Janet (Esther Jun), proudly presides over his Regent Park variety store, evoked beautifully by Ken Mac Kenzie's set. Although the area's changing - condos are going up - Appa knows his neighbourhood well and can size up a customer's theft risk just by looking at him or her.
Over one eventful day, Appa literally takes stock of his life. A friendly real estate agent (Clé Bennett, disappearing nicely into several roles) offers to buy him out before a Walmart goes up, but Mr. Kim has other ideas. Couldn't Janet take over the store? And then there's the matter of his no-good estranged son, Jung (Choi).
The plot's familiar, but the writing is effective because it's unfussy, simple and direct. Choi and director Weyni Mengesha understand that drama hits deeper when it's mixed up with laughter. A new monologue about the Rodney King riots adds complexity to the look at urban race relations, and while there's only a single flashback - a lovely moment when we see how the store got its name - the characters and direction are so strong, we immediately understand where they come from.
The rich performances have deepened since the sold-out Fringe production, with Yoon's posture and silences suggesting as much as Jun's cocky confrontational style. (Only Bennett is new to the cast.)
But it's Lee who dominates the show as the authoritative, quick-to-judge patriarch. Physically threatening, Lee nails the smart one-liners, but also reveals the subtle emotional shifts of a man who's finally coming to terms with what his life means.
Kudos to Soulpepper for launching their new season with this, their first new full-length Canadian script. Let's hope the show's diverse cast find roles there in future seasons.
NOW championed Kim's Convenience at the 2011 Fringe. Read our review with star Ins Choi here.