Saturday, January 10, 2015
Theatre: Kim's Convenience
We first watched Kim's Convenience when it played in the 2011 Fringe Festival and were curious as to what changes would be made in the Soulpepper production. Through the various iterations of the show in Toronto and across Canada, most of the 5 member cast have rotated in and out, except for Paul Lee who plays Appa. He is so iconic in this role that it is inconceivable to imagine anyone else playing it.
During the post-show question and answer period, I asked how the show had changed since the Fringe days. In terms of storyline, the script had pretty much remained intact, other than to add current social references such as Facebook. The one exception was the addition of an extremely poignant and moving monologue. Appa tells Janet that despite his prejudices, he does not mind if she dates a black policeman, who is an old friend of Jung's. To explain why, he tells the story of his Korean grocer friend in Los Angeles who frequently loaned money to his black customers who needed help. During the Rodney King riots, a crowd of black people descended upon his store and he thought he was about to be vandalized. Instead, it was his customers who joined hands to form a human chain to protect his store. This was such a beautifully written speech that it brought tears to my eyes (for not the only time while watching this play).
The other major upgrade from the Fringe show was the relatively elaborate set. The convenience store was well stocked with actual products and had an actual swinging door with a bell. This was all simulated in the Fringe show. Through the magic of lighting, a separate section at the side of the stage was illuminated to reveal stained glass windows representing the church where Jung and Umma meet. The actress currently playing the role of Umma is in fact Chinese and had to learn the brief snippets of untranslated Korean dialogue phonetically with the help of a dialogue coach. She also described the process of learning how a traditional Korean woman would act in expressing anger, disappointment or weariness.
Ins Choi was told to write about what he knew, which included working in his parent's convenience store, the Korean church scene and downtown Toronto. He wrote Kim's Convenience both as a tribute to his parents and as a "love letter" to Toronto. The play is filled with references to Toronto streets, shops and restaurants. When asked whether the names of places changed when the show was on tour, the answer was an emphatic "No". Toronto is an integral character in this play.
Kim's Convenience is so popular because it resonates with all people regardless of race. The cast and crew talk about how often audience members come up to them and say "This is my story".