With only a few structural changes, Kim’s Convenience could easily become the first four episodes in a new Canadian sitcom.
Episode One: Appa and Umma
Playwright Ins Choi, who also plays the prodigal son in episode four, knows who his story is about: the irascible but lovable Appa (the Korean word for dad). Played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, there is as much a weariness that runs through him after years of running the convenience as there is a steadfast resolve to make a life for him and his family in his adopted country. The patriarch of his family’s dime-store dynasty, Lee manages to find a genuinely sweet balance in a character that not only plays to many Asian stereotypes, but at times seems to revel in them.
Of Choi’s characters it is Umma (the Korean word for Mom) who is short-changed the most. Perhaps she will get her own episode later in the season, but here she is relegated to an almost guest appearance status. Jane Luk does her best with the small role, but of any of the characters on stage this is one that deserves more exploration.
Episode Two: Janet
The second-generation immigrant story is highlighted in this episode that focuses on the daughter, who also happens to be the immediately obvious choice to continue in the family business. Instead, Janet is focused on the opportunities that have been created because of the sacrifices her family has made. Nothing groundbreaking here, but as Janet, Chantelle Han manages to rise about her story, especially as it leads into the episode three.
Episdoe Three: Alex
This episode could actually be titled “Alex and Rich and Mr Lee and Mike” as Andre Sills is called upon to be a number of characters who visit the store. Managing four distinct roles, Sills’s versatility is showcased, but it is in the meatiest role as Alex the cop, out to woo daughter Janet, where he really gets to shine.
Episode Four: Jung
The prodigal son returns. No spoiler here as the inevitability of son Jung’s reconciliation and return to the family business is as predictable as Mr Kim conveniently lapsing into poor English. Along with Umma, this is another of Choi’s characters that deserves a greater exploration.
Episode Five & Beyond: TBC
Making the transition from stage to the small screen would be made even easier by Ken MacKenzie’s brilliantly realized set that is so realistic it will actually keep you occupied during intermission as you visually explore its contents.
If Kim’s Convenience were a Thursday night option on one of our national television networks there is no doubt that millions of Asian Canadians (and others) would be tuning in, desperate to see their lives reflected in a television landscape that so rarely reflects our country’s cultural make up. And while it may never be the groundbreaking comedy about a modern Canadian family, there are enough warm fuzzies and genuine laughs to warrant at least a one season order.
Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi. An Arts Club Theatre company presentation of a Soulpepper Production. On stage at the Granville Island Stage through May 24, 2014. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.