With war raging half-way round the world and school children as well as various groupings being shot and killed around our once proud country, I needed some good news and some laughter. I found it at Kim’s Convenience. Peg and I relaxed and laughed and laughed and laughed some of our troubles away.
Meet the Kims, a loving, if imperfect, Korean family making their way in Toronto. In this award-winning play, the Kims face gentrification, a growing generation gap, and the threat of a new Walmart opening when the hundreds of condos are developed; knowing this, they debate the future of their convenience store and home. Through it all the parents, Appa (James Yi) and Yong-mi (Annie Yim), their unmarried daughter Janet (Lia Lee), and disappointing son Jung (Parker Kennedy), learn to see each other in a new light. This hilarious and heartwarming story (recently turned into a Netflix sitcom) reminds us that family isn’t always convenient, but it might be the best deal out there.
The set was wonderful, it felt as if we were standing on the outside looking in and spying on the goings on of the Kim family. The sounds of traffic added to those feelings. The set was well lit as the audience took their seats and then darkened to open the play.
I grew up in a motel my parents owned along I-5, so it felt a little like dejavu, with our home only yards and feet away from clients. I’ve stared down people breaking into rooms with me armed with an unloaded pistol and asked a carload of revelers to leave, armed with nothing but gumption.
My parents moved to Tacoma after World War II from Missouri looking for a better place to live and earn a better income. My dad worked as a bookkeeper for several different businesses before purchasing the seven room motel near Fort Lewis and making it our family’s money making business and home in 1957. By the time we sold it, we had more than 30 rooms.
In the early 1960s many Koreans immigrated to Canada for the same reasons we moved. A large percentage opened convenience stores, lived upstairs or behind the store fronts. Kim’s author, Ins Choi, settled in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto, Canada. His father worked at his uncle’s convenience store called Kim’s Grocer, while Ins worked at his parents’ friends convenience store. I told my mother once, “We don’t have a home, we have a motel.” I can easily see and feel the angst and the anger. But as a teenager, I always had money in my pockets.
James Yi plays the part of the father, Appa. He was wonderful, even with the heavy but understandable accent. He strutted around the store making sure everything was perfect and even checking outside to make sure people were not illegally parked. You could tell that he cared about the business and the neighborhood.
The scene and sound design were very well handled by Mark Lund.
Annie Yim plays the mother. You feel that she cares about the store, but she loves her children more.
Seattle actor Obadiah Freeman did yeoman’s work in four roles: as two customers Rich and Alex, associate Mister Lee, and Mike, a local policeman.
Lia Lee is a Korean/American actress by way of Seattle. Lia has had the privilege of living and performing in the US, UK, and South Korea. She played the part of Janet, the owners’ daughter of Kim’s Convenience. She plays rebellious and self-driven well, even if it took years for it to really show up. She just might find that Mike the policeman is her ticket to a self-chosen better world.
The prodigal son Jung was played by Parker Kennedy. Jung left home at the age of sixteen, but has failed to find the success he knows he is capable of achieving. Although, the character comes across almost like a whipped dog, the audience and his mother want him to, so much find the happiness he seeks at Kim’s Convenience.
I understand the play seeks to open a discussion on sensitive topics that are rarely discussed within a family . . . been there, done that . . . and revisited it with our own family. I appreciated the attempts to understand the growing-up problems. All families struggle at times and they seem to work it out. That’s what we want to see at the little store that sells chips, cola, peanuts and a hundred other things.
There was a well deserved standing ovation at the end.
The last performance is June 19th. For ticket info (and you know you want to see it) go to: tacomaartslive.org/events/calendar/eventdetail/1865/9/kim-s-convenience