When I saw Kim’s Convenience at Theatre Aquarius on Friday evening, I couldn’t help but think about my own family for the full two hours.
I am not Korean, I don’t live in Regent Park, nor does my family own a convenience store. But the whole time I felt that Apa, Janet, Umma and Jung were telling my story – my family’s story. When Apa revealed his disappointment with Janet’s career as a photographer, I remembered my own mother’s confusion four years ago: “Why not just science? Why art and science?” When Umma explained how Apa had sacrificed his whole life, his whole self, for his children, I thought of all the stories my father always shares so longingly about his home country. When Janet twisted her father’s arm to squeeze out of him the words “I love you,” I wanted nothing more than to immediately call my parents to remind them how much I care.
The production is hilarious, moving and honest – often brutally honest. My loud laughter was regularly cut off by a sudden wave of emotion. The story shifts gracefully from humour to heartbreak and thus offers a highly nuanced and realistic image of Canadian immigrant life.
But it doesn’t always paint a pretty picture. Apa might very well embrace a black husband for his daughter, but he will systematically practice racial profiling while running his business. And in the one instance that we see on stage, the audience gasped when Appa catches a Jamaican man stealing from his store. Janet is a kind and caring daughter, but we still see her in moments of extreme selfishness. And the story of Jung, the son with so much potential who ends up in a dead-end job with a baby and a girlfriend he doesn’t love, left me wondering about the futility of it all. Would their life have been different, better, more fulfilling if they had never come to Canada? Was Apa’s life a waste if his children were unhappy and unsuccessful? Could he have done things differently? Does there come a point when parents should not be held responsible for the decisions and failures of their children? When does that day come?
I was the probably the youngest person and I was also very clearly a racial minority. The room was filled with older, white men and women. And the whole time I wondered – what are these people thinking about? How are they relating to this story? Is there empathy? Do they too feel like they are contained within Kim’s Convenience store, that they too can find their own stories somewhere between the aisles and the shelves?
Kim’s Convenience reminded me of the power of theatre – of how a simple, everyday story suddenly becomes startling and special.
Kim’s Convenience is playing at Theatre Aquarius until November 23rd.