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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Since New York has no shortage of retail establishments run by Korean immigrants, it's not all that hard to identify with the Canadian Mr. Kim, a.k.a. Appa. Add to that sense of identity that many New York audience members were either born elsewhere or have immigrant parents, grandparents or great-grandparents — which is perhaps more meaningful than ever given the current administration's willingness to curtail the immigrant influx that's always been integral to the vibrancy of America's open door democracy.
Like that old sit-com curmudgeon Archie Bunker, Mr. Kim's Appa tends to give voice to some outrageously politically incorrect attitudes, especially towards his feisty unmarried daughter Janet. But like Archie's ongoing arguments with his liberal son-in-law, Appa's arguments with Janet function as a political and social sounding board for tensions between generations and within the social fabric of neighborhoods like the one in which Kim's Convenience is located. And so, for all the amusing banter and comic physical shtick, this liittle play has its more serious side and an endearing, tender heartbeat.
Best of all, in just 90 minutes, playwright Ins Choi has managed to juggle and satisfactorily connect a number plot strands: The struggle between the autocratic father and the independent daughter (he wants her to take over the store, she wants no part of it). . . the store's dealing with its uncertain standing within the neighborhood's changing demographic by either hanging in and hoping that the more upscale new residents will still come to the store, or accepting a buy-out offer. . . Janet's rekindled relationship with a schoolday crush who's now a cop. . .and the return of the son whose troubles with drugs and the law ended his contacts with the family, except for occasional secret meetings with Umma.
Fortunately, the New York production of Kim's Convenience features the actors who created the roles of the Kim family. That includes the playwright, who's taken time out from scripting the TV show, to be part of Soulpepper on 42nd Street. Also back on board is Ronnir Ror Jr. to handily take on three roles, most engagingly as the hunky cop Janet still likes.
Good as all the performances are, the real star is Ken MacKenzie's terrifically detailed recreation of the store.
It did take me a bit to get used to Paul Sun-Hyung Lee's accent. Nor was I bowled over by the comic arm-twisting business — neither Appa's using it to have a hand (literally), in the outcome of the romance or Janet's turning the table on Appa.
That said, one can't help responding to the genuine warmth between these people and sympathizing with what running that store has meant to Appa. There's also the darker element about the effect of neighborhoods going upscale on small businesses to add to the universality and underlying depth of this light-hearted comedy.
Since the actors all appear in the sitcom that the play has seeded, they've had to cut their New York run short to shoot the next episode. While the TV show may well reach even more viewers on one of the streaming networks like Netflix or Acorn, do take advantage of this chance to see this human comedy in its live and lively original permutation.
My review of the more complex Of Human Bondage will go livetomorrow. The musical adaptation of Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River will be posted after Charles Wright sees it next week. For other events that are part of Soulpepper on 42nd street, see https://www.soulpepper.ca/new-york
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Kim's Convenience by Ins Choi
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
Cast:Ins Choi (Jung), Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Appa), Ronnie Rowe Jr. (Rich, Mr. Lee, Mike, Alex), Rosie Simon (Janet), Jean Yoon (Umma)
Ken Mackenzie, Set and Costume Designer
Lorenzo Savoini, Lighting Designer
Thomas Ryder Payne, Sound Designer
Kelly McEvenue, Alexander Coach
Sean Back, Fight Director
Casey Hudecki, Remount Fight Director
Robert Harding, Production Stage Manager
Kat Chin, Stage Manager
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermisson
Soulpepper at Pershing Square Signature Center
From 7/01/17; opening 7/05/17; closing7/15/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 7/02/17 press matinee
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