By Ins Choi. Directed by Kaitlin Williams. At Pacific Theatre on Saturday, September 8. Continues until October 6
Before there was Kim’s Convenience, the hit CBC sitcom, there was Kim’s Convenience, the play. It debuted at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2011 and subsequently toured Canada and enjoyed an off-Broadway run before hitting Canadian airwaves.
The eponymous Mr. Kim (James Yi) has run his corner store in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood for as long as his kids, Janet (Jessie Liang) and Jung (Lee Shorten), can remember. Thirty-year-old Janet has helped her parents—her appa and umma—run the store for nearly that long herself. But she doesn’t want to inherit the family business. She has aspirations to be a professional photographer, and doesn’t want anything to do with price guns and inventory. Meanwhile, her brother Jung fled the family as a teenager and only orbits their outer rim.
That summary sounds pretty sombre, but Kim’s Convenience is uproariously funny. The production hinges on the assured, subtle performance of Yi as Appa. The show begins with Yi opening up the store. For a couple of minutes, he silently roves the stage, loading the cash register and futzing with the potato chips. He’s eminently watchable and we’re utterly convinced that this man has his 10,000 hours of shopkeeping under his belt. From there, Yi’s confidence and comic timing drive the action.
Carolyn Rapanos’s set is perfect and perfectly particular. From the Ontario Lottery Gold decal above the door to the Toronto Now newspaper in the rack, it’s a remarkable re-creation of the familiar corner store. Pacific Theatre has a small alley stage, with the audience watching the action from both sides. This can create extra challenges for designers, but Rapanos, along with director Kaitlin Williams and lighting designer Jonathan Kim, have the space figured out.
When attending the show, book tickets on the south side of the stage. That way you can walk through the set on the way to your seats and really appreciate all the fine detail.
Some of that merchandise gets knocked around, though, as there’s a lot of action in this 75-minute show. There’s nothing particularly surprising about how the plot plays out. You can see the bones of the future sitcom in the show’s hammier moments and dad jokes. But it also wrestles—well, maybe it play-fights—with more serious issues. The show explores the tensions that often arise between the life choices and legacies of first-generation immigrants and their children.
And it’s not afraid to poke fun at the cultural stereotypes within and around the Kim family. In a very funny sequence, Appa outlines his complicated taxonomy of potential shoplifters: “Fat black girl is no steal. Fat white guy, that’s steal. Fat guy is black, brown shoes, that’s no steal. That’s cancel-out combo.”
Kim’s Convenience is easily the funniest show I’ve seen all year. If you like the TV show, you’re going to love this production.