Two days, two shows at the NAC…don’t I feel like a pampered little prince over here? One of them especially was a little out of my usual pay grade, National Theatre of Great Britain’s celebrated WAR HORSE, part of the NAC Broadway series. I don’t get invites to big stuff like that, but luckily I managed to trick my Mom into buying tickets for it, because there’s a horse in it and Moms like horses. All I’ll say about that particular spectacle is IT’S WAR HORSE. Pretty incredible, and it makes my mind boggle at the things theatre can do. Also, the goose totally stole the show.
I was back again the following day, however, on my more regular theatrical beat, checking out the latest from the NAC English Theatre series, this time Soulpepper’s much-lauded KIM’S CONVENIENCE by Ins Choi. With the stellar company of the lady miss Bobby Robert, and some of the best damn seats I ever did score at the NAC, we headed on in to see what all the fuss was about. After its initial creation at the fu-GEN theatre company, and later sold-out full length debut at the Toronto Fringe Festival, KC has been a hit all over, and reportedly now in development as both TV series and movie. You’d think it was pretty good or something. Time for me to find out!
The show is set entirely in the titular convenience store (a gorgeously real set from designer Ken MacKenzie that looks like you could walk in and stock up on Lay’s right there in the theatre), owned and run by the uncompromising Mr.Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee). Mr.Kim is a Korean immigrant who started up his small Toronto convenience store with his wife Umma (Jean Yoon) upon arriving in Canada, with dreams of passing it on to his children Janet (Grace Lynn Kung) and Jung (Ins Choi). But things don’t always work out as planned…Jung left home in a fit of teenage pique years ago and has hardly been heard from since, and Janet, now pursuing photography, has little interest in Dad’s store. This leaves Appa working day and night behind the counter, indulging in his hobby of despising the Japanese and wondering whether or not he should take that rich investor’s bid on the store or not.
A beautifully simple story that is uniquely Canadian AND Korean (who hasn’t been in this very same convenience store at some point?), KIM’S CONVENIENCE tells a hilariously honest story of family that is, just like the hype suggests, straight up impossible to resist. The cast led by Paul Lee’s imperious Appa, is a joy to behold as the fractured family in question (and rounded out by the excellent Andre Sills as a local policeman, among other roles). Jean Yoon’s quietly faithful and fretting Mother exudes sympathy, and Grace Kung’s feisty Janet is painfully funny as she grapples with her Father’s utter lack of sensitivity to her dreams. There are more laughs in this show that in the average full season of any sitcom you care to name. And when the emotional kicker comes to bear in the final act, and we learn just what Mr.Kim’s story is really all about, it’ll leave your eyes watery and your heart soaring. This is an intimate piece of theatre that’s as big as any Broadway show you’ll ever see, in all the best ways.
And fun news! If you’re still in the mood for even more of playwright and actor Ins Choi’s work, he’ll be performing his spoken word show SUBWAY STATIONS OF THE CROSS one night only, on February Sunday the 2nd at St.Alban’s church right here in town. I think I’ll be in rehearsal (I’ll tell you all about it one of these days), but you all should definitely check it out. And for sure see KIM’S CONVENIENCE, as good as theatre gets. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)