Minding the Store: Touching Toronto Tale of Familiar Family Foibles Sizzles at the Segal Centre

Canada is often lovingly referred to as a melting pot, and the rich, textured stories of the people that make it up have often only been told in enclaves or pockets of storytelling splendor in the not-too-distant past. But with a new connected world that sometimes can feel disjointed at the best of times comes a growing interest in finding commonalities that connect us all in this vast geographic tapestry that makes our nation the envy of diverse lands the world over. And now we have another undeniable gem to proudly export that came bursting out the gate of the Toronto Fringe Festival some six years ago and onto the stages and television screens of our homes – and much to the delight of our city – has made an, ahem, convenient stop at the Segal Centre to warm our hearts and tickle our collective funny bones.
Kim’s Convenience, from the outside looking in to both first generation Canadians and those whose ancestors settled here long ago, seems to emanate from a setting seen in basically every corner of a modern cosmopolitan city. A charming corner store stoically run by a hard-working immigrant family. You don’t know much about them, they essentially just appeared one day, often working long hours and with diligent intensity to serve their loyal neighbourhood customer base. But how many of us give any thought to who the family behind the counter is, how they got there, the need they must experience to acclimate and integrate into a society often quite different from their place of origin, the dynamic between the members internally, their hopes and dreams, and the everyday hilarity and hijinks that often ensue with the comings and goings of regular customers, passerby, and colorful characters we all see at our favorite local established markets. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon bring the semi-biographical tale of Ins Choi to life – both in this live production and on Canadian television screens – as Mr. and Mrs. Kim: proprietors of the store, and patriarch and matriarch of their passionate if not fractured family. Playwright Ins Choi’s parents were Torontonian immigrants from Korea and his father went to work for his uncle’s store, Kim’s Grocer, in the mid-1970s, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There is little question Kim’s Convenience is hilarious, but it is also so much more. The trials and tribulations that any family faces in their relations with one another, added to the element of two parents coming from one culture and raising their children in a polarizing society that is increasingly modernizing, and the value clash that is almost guaranteed to ensue, virtually ensures a drama within a drama. The characters’ nuances and insecurities are, for the most part, meticulously explored. The Kims’ children are enigmatic in and of themselves. Daughter Janet, buoyantly portrayed by Rosie Simon, is her own person and has a different vision of her future than her father may be hoping for, and son Jung, brought to life by Richard Lee, is estranged altogether from his parents for past indiscretions, though his mother’s covert soft spot for him reveals layers of her character one may not pick up on from the humorous moments. And Ronnie Rowe, Jr. rounds out the cast expertly playing multiple smaller roles, including one of a neighbourhood police officer who one could say has more than a passing interest in Janet.
Observing the interplay between Mr. Kim and the various personages that frequent the store will have you laughing until the point it hurts, but the interplay between he and his family, and occasionally his own inner monologue about the past from whence he came and the future he ideally foresees, will tug at your heartstrings and affect even the most casual observer for its poignancy and recognizable eddies, peaks and valleys of everyone’s hopes and fears, as well as reaction to family life and dynamics.
Bring some pocket money, an open mind and heart, and your funny bone, as store hours will continue at the Segal until March 19th. Visit segalcentre.org for more details or call 514-739-7944  .

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