Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Review of "Kim's Convenience " - Westport Country Playhouse

Kim’s Convenience, a one-act comedy-drama at the Westport Country Playhouse through July 17, is an affable, easily digestible play that comes across like a TV pilot.  In fact, after the show’s world premiere in Canada in 2011, a television series was produced based on the play (running on Netflix), from 2016 - 2021.

Why the comparison to a broadcasting series?  In Kim’s Convenience, by the time the 90-minute production concludes, there are many loose ends and plot points that need much further exploration.  Will Mr. Kim sell his convenience store to the high flying real estate developer?  Will daughter Janet’s new-found romance last?  What about the estranged son, Jung, now seemingly back in his father’s good graces?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Kim’s Convenience is an age-old story of a young, immigrant couple coming to the United States to make a better life for their children.  There have been countless shows on this theme with every ethnicity you can name - Italian, Jewish, Indian, and so on.  In this case, the parents are of Korean descent and the proud owners of a store similar to a Cumberland Farms or 7-11.  Mr. Kim (Appa), who at the beginning of the play receives a very generous offer to buy him out, is conflicted.  While the money would allow him to retire, his whole identity is wrapped up with the convenience store.  Sell?  And then what?  His wife Umma urges him to accept the payout so they can have a normal life.  But he would like his 30-year old daughter, Janet, to take over the business.  She, though, has other plans especially now that she has rekindled a childhood romance.  Older brother Jung?  He left home years earlier after a heated argument with Appa.  Even though he surreptitiously still meets with Umma, he hasn’t seen or spoken to his father for a very long time.  By the play’s end, Jung has made amends with Appa and a new beginning is set into motion.

Playwright Ins Choi has crafted a show that, at times, is very funny, but also heartfelt.  His characters, flaws and all, come across as real people trying to find their purpose in life.  This can be especially difficult for children coming from first generation immigrant parents when there is so much pressure to succeed in high paying, greatly esteemed careers like medicine, law or engineering. Mr. Choi also factors in the question of high-promising children that don’t meet parental expectations later on in life.

The cast is uniformly solid - Cindy Im as the obedient, yet strong-willed daughter, Janet; Chuja Seo  as the selfless and dutiful wife, Umma; Eric R. Williams  as the head-over-heels in love, Officer Alex (along with some other minor portrayals); Hyunmin Rhee as the beleaguered son, Jung; and David Shih as the no-nonsense husband, Appa.

Two of the performers deserve special note.  David Shih’s Mr. Kim (Appa), the heart and soul of the production, is abrupt, politically incorrect, but shows deep concern and care for his family, even if he doesn’t show it outright.  Hyunmin Rhee imbues Jung with deep-rooted pain and sorrow that is heart wrenching to watch.

Director Nelson T. Eusebio III keeps the show at a quick pace.  No scene lingers too long as the various plot lines unfold and are relegated to, one assumes, some eventual closure outside the production.  He handles the more affecting parts of the show without sentimentality or sappiness.  My only complaint is the staging of the meeting between Jung and Umma in her church.  The two characters are far to one side of the theater, which made it hard to hear the dialogue.

Scenic designer You-Shin Chen has assembled a realistic convenience store interior, from the cold beverage refrigerators to the multitude of snack choices displayed on shelves to the curious knick-knacks hanging on walls.  Sound designer Twi McCallum has lovingly created the annoying chime when the front door opens and closes.  Lighting designer Marie Yokoyama has bathed the set with the strikingly bright fluorescent lighting found in such stores.

Kim’s Convenience, playing through Sunday, July 17 at the Westport Country Playhouse.

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