Neptune Theatre‘s newest production, Kim’s Convenience, boasts some successes while also playing host to a myriad of missteps. Penned by playwright Ins Choi, the audience is welcomed to watch a day in the life faced by so many immigrant families in our country. At the centre of this journey, we have Appa, the stern and stoic patriarch who operates his convenience store with steely purpose (a method also aptly reflected in his parenting style). Actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee portrays his Korean iron-fisted lead well; Appa is a mountain— both proud and stubborn— and he proceeds to obliviously blur the line between the two throughout the course of the play.
If there is a main theme that resonates within Kim’s Convenience, it is change; the show plays host to supporting characters who all come into range of Appa’s realm and attempt to upset the order he has so painstakingly established. The biggest and best example of this lies in Appa’s relationship with his equally-willful daughter Janet (an excellent Rosie Simon). Whereas Janet aids her father in the day-to-day well-being of the store, her sense of familial obligation has its limits; it is a relationship growing more strained with each passing day. In the show’s best moments, Janet rejects the world her father has toiled for years to build. For Appa, Kim’s Convenience is sheer legacy, a physical embodiment for future generations to look upon to remember and hopefully respect; the sad fact of the matter is that Janet knows the father’s lifetime work is just one of many available paths and one that is less suited towards her long-term hopes and goals. The exchanges between Lee and Simon are touching and succeed at exposing cracks in the vulnerabilities of both father and daughter. There’s also a lot of humour found in this storyline with affable actor Ronnie Rowe Jr. providing an amusing array of minor characters.
As a result of the aforementioned struggle, the other central conflict which later appears in Choi’s work pales in comparison. The troubled relationship between Appa and his estranged son Jung (Richard Lee) never has time in the show’s relatively short run-time of 80 minutes to fully take root or satisfactorily resolve. Jung and Appa’s encounters never possess the emotional potency seen in Appa’s exchanges with Janet, which, when looked at in the context of the play, should have received equal treatment. The most unfortunate result of this is that it renders Umma (Appa’s wife, played by Maki Yi) into an unthanked and overlooked character. Umma offers a quiet warmth to the fiery counterpart of Appa, yet her sole function is to merely offer solace to Jung; she is an unthanked ghost, an invisible vessel for change striving to mend a broken bond. This frustration is compounded by her brief time onstage and the reality that it is the stubborn Appa who benefits from her efforts. Choi is a talented writer, but this writing decision took me out of his world so close to the end.
At its core, Kim’s Convenience has heart, but its progress and potential gets muddled by an uneven storyline that ends with a conclusion that borders on almost rushed. To its credit, Kim’s Convenience delivers laughs and lasting glimpses of skillful storytelling matched by solid acting that promotes the importance of family and tradition; it’s just a show that left me wanting more.
All photos credited to Timothy Richard.