‘Kim’s Convenience’ at Westport Tells a Heart-Warming, Universal Story

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By Karen Isaacs

Kim’s Convenience now at Westport Country Playhouse through Sunday, July 17 is a light summer entertainment with some serious overtones. The question is: what are “our stories”?

It’s based on a popular Netflix comedy set in Toronto of the same name, though I had never heard of it. Kim’s Convenience is the name of a convenience store owned for many years by Mr. Kim. Now well into middle age, he wants to know which of his two children will take over the store and continue “his story.” He is proud of his heritage and his accomplishments. He wants his Canadian-reared children to recognize and appreciate both.

During the course of the 85-minute play, we learn that Mr. Kim (or Appa) left Korea where he was a history teacher to come to Canada. Unable to teach due to his limited English, he opened this store. He, his wife and two children have lived above the store.

Now the area is changing with condos going up all around, a rumor of a Walmart arriving, and retirement a possibility. In fact, a realtor has offered him a lot of money for the store.

Like so many of us, his identity and self-esteem is tied to his work life; it is as he calls it “his story” and he wants it to continue. But there is a problem. His son left home at 16 after an argument and has not returned, though he does see his mother at church. Janet, his daughter, still lives at home and is a photographer – a career choice that Mr. Kim strongly disagrees with.

He wants Janet to take over the store and does all he can to force her to. This ranges from his “lessons” in management which reflect his prejudices, to denigrating her career choice.

It is clear that he is angry. Part of his anger is directed to Japan – he becomes enraged when a Hondo is parked illegally – because of the history between the two countries. He schools everyone on the details of Korea’s proud history and the treachery of the Japanese.

So how is this a comedy? Surprisingly it is funny and warm. Mr. Kim may be angry and feel that the ends justify the means, but he is also a concerned father even if he does not recognize autonomy. Even his prejudices – as when he tells Janet how to categorize customers in “steal” and “no steal” – are funny.

Andit ends with reconciliations all around.

You-Shin Chen has created a set that makes you want to go onto the stage and shop. It IS a convenience store with freeze/refrigerator cases at the back, a cash register by the door and impulse buy products at the counter. The only problem is that the door to the upstairs living quarters is obscured if you are sitting on the left side of the theater.

Director Nelson T. Eusebio, III has handled the play by Ins Choi with empathy. Even when you want to cringe at some of Mr. Kim’s comments and actions, you understand where these are coming from. David Shih plays him as a man coming to grips with both his mortality and his disappointments.

Cindy Im is his 30-year-old daughter, Janet. Im balances the frustration of dealing with Mr. Kim who doesn’t hear or respect her point of view, with affection. She also is angry at too many afternoons and evenings spent working in the store.

A highlight is the performances by Eric R. Williams. He plays a number of roles – the realtor and several customers – but late in the show he is a police officer who knew Janet in high school and was friends with her brother. Williams may overplay the shyness as a romance begins between them, but he makes it seem natural and sweet.

As Mr. Kim’s wife, Chuja Seo mostly speaks in Korean though you can easily pick up the gist of what she is saying. Hyunmin Rhee plays the estranged son, who, of course, must be brought back into the family.

If I had one complaint about this show, it involves the accents and the use of Korean. While it may be accurate, Mr. Kim’s accent is strong enough to make it difficult to understand at times. I wish the director had used supertitles to translate the lines in Korean.

But overall, you will see that Mr. Kim’s story is so like many of ours. It may remind us of our parents or grandparents who also emigrated.

For tickets visit WestportPlayhouse.org

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