Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Laguna Playhouse welcomes the Canadian Netflix hit to the local stage
By Libby Nicolay
When Director Jon Lawrence Rivera signed onto this project, he needed no introduction to the characters. After five celebrated seasons on Netflix, the Korean-Canadian family sitcom Kim’s Convenience has grown from a Canadian gem to an international cult classic. Laguna Playhouse is thrilled to be staging the original 2011 play that inspired the series - a warm and funny story that will leave audiences smiling while it touches on pertinent themes of family, identity, and race.
The play was written by Ins Choi, a second-generation Korean immigrant in the Toronto area who based the story loosely on his own experience. The play found widespread success across Canada and, in 2015, was developed into a popular Netflix series that spanned five seasons and garnered dozens of awards and global acclaim.
The story centers around Mr. Kim. Lovingly known as Appa, he is a first-generation Korean immigrant and owner of KIM’S CONVENIENCE store. Appa has put 30 years into building his store out of nothing and thus, paving a future for his children. But, his daughter Janet has plans to become a photographer and his son Jung has been estranged from the family for years after a big feud with Appa.
When the Kim’s Toronto neighborhood begins to be taken over by gentrification, Appa is offered the chance to sell the store at a price that would allow him and his wife to retire. But, by tearing down his family’s namesake, Appa is haunted by the thought that his entire family legacy would be destroyed along with it.
In the 1960s, hundreds of South Koreans began emigrating to Canada, and many found honest work through family-operated convenience stores in the urban areas. This story parallels Choi’s own experience growing up near Toronto and working in his family’s own convenience store, and navigating the often wide generational gaps between second-generation children and their immigrant parents. Rivera knows this experience firsthand, coming from a family of Filipino immigrants.
“There are a lot of resonances to my own culture about the disparity between my parents coming into this country and us who grew up here,” Rivera said, speaking of the typical extreme culture gap between the first and second generation. Appa and his wife Umma struggle to connect with their children, who have grown up amidst Canadian culture and, fortunately for their parents’ hard work, haven’t known the same struggles.
When speaking about the importance of showing immigrant families on stage, Rivera mentioned the opportunity to stage this play in Laguna Beach, in the midst of California’s melting pot and saturated Asian immigrant population. “If there are going to be Korean Americans, or Asian Americans, or any immigrant who’s coming to see the show, I feel like they’re going to embrace what they see on stage,” Rivera concurred. He hopes local audiences, no matter their race, will be able to see the universal themes within the play.
The Kim family, in their plain ordinariness, strikes a familiar chord and reminds us how prevalent their story can be. Every family has their own secrets and traumas. Appa and Umma have fallen short dozens of times as parents, but they’ve worked hard to build the life they have for Janet and Jung, flaws and all, and they never lose sight of the dream they had when they first arrived.
Rivera noted a tendency among immigrant families to equate hard work with self-worth and to devote their entire lives to it in search of their legacy, like Appa. Rivera said, “I think it’s true for many first generation immigrants who came to this country - their legacy may look like it’s their markers of wealth or the fortune they’ve created, but really their legacies are their kids.” Through the fear of losing his life’s work, Appa is forced to redefine his idea of his own legacy and see his worth beyond just his store.
Despite the play’s depth and relevance, it is still a comedy that will undoubtedly have audiences giggling at the family’s hilarious, back-and-forth banter that we know can only be mastered over many years of practice with our closest circles. Whether or not you loved the Netflix show, come fall in love with this family as they chase after a life they can be proud of and strive to leave a legacy that their future generations will remember.
Libby Nicolay is a writer, literary manager, and local theater enthusiast working in the entertainment industry throughout Orange County.
Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
September 21-October 9, 2022
(949) 497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com