Popular play turned Netflix series 'Kim's Convenience,' about a Korean-Canadian family, comes to Atlanta area

"Kim's Convenience" is a comedic play about a Korean-Canadian family living in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Toronto. Actors Ryan Vo as Jung, Yingling Zhu as Umma, Caroline Donica as Janet. (Photo Courtesy of Casey Gardner Ford)

The hit play that took Canada by storm and launched a popular Netflix show has arrived in the Atlanta area. “Kim’s Convenience” is a comedic play about a Korean-Canadian family living in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Toronto. The show is on stage at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville through Feb. 19 and will move to Horizon Theatre in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood beginning Mar. 3. 

Director Rebecca Wear joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom about the heart-warming, thoughtful family story that’s made such waves on American stages and screens.

Interview highlights:

The story of “Kim’s Convenience” and why it’s so popular:

“In this story, Mr. Kim is grappling with what to do with his convenience store. The surrounding area is being developed and gentrified, and he is wondering as he gets older what will happen with the store, which of course, is a metaphor as well for what his legacy will be, and what he will leave as he continues on,” said Wear.

“Part of what I love about this play is that I think that it holds simultaneously both the challenges of lived experience, and also the joys and the playfulness that we all can hold. The lead actor, Jimmy [Yi], who’s phenomenal, he’s playing, of course, Mr. Kim, ‘Appa.’ He talks specifically about how a lot of second-generation plays talk about the trauma that’s been inflicted upon them by their parents’ immigration processes, and what’s really amazing about ‘Kim’s Convenience’ is that it acknowledges that and also talks about the playfulness and the joy that family ties can offer us nonetheless.”

A cross-culturally welcoming production:

“When [producing artistic director] Ann-Carol and I first started talking about this play, she talked with me about how she really wanted to use this piece as a way to welcome some of the local Korean community, who perhaps did not previously have a relationship with Aurora Theatre,” explained Wear. “Because there are so many Korean immigrants, Korean diasporic, and now Korean-Americans in Gwinnett County, and… I think according to the 2010 census, Korean is the third-most commonly spoken language in Gwinnett… she wanted to make sure that the work was really accessible.”

“One of her amazing ideas, that I think she came up with in collaboration with one of her board members, was that the entire piece be translated into Korean, and then we super-title it and project it onto the set for the entire show. And so this allows us to, and encourages us to, invite people who maybe are not native English speakers, or who maybe don’t speak English, and invite them into the theater so that maybe people who would identify more closely with Appa, Mr. Kim, or be even older than that, can still partake in the piece and get the full experience.”

On the growing space in American media for Asian and Asian-American stories:

“One of the things that some theaters are starting to recognize now, I think, probably especially in response to the anti-Asian violence that we’ve seen of the last few years is how important it is to have all different kinds of Asian voices on stage, and you know, I see people who are hungry for this everywhere,” said Wear. “One of the things that the Asian-American movement has been grappling with, as scholar Lisa Lowe talks about, is this monolithic identity, this idea that Asian-Americans are not just a model minority, but they all come from a specific kind of wealth, or a specific kind of education, and when we begin to trace immigration law back into the 1980s, the 1960s, and before, we see why these myths have been created.”

“But I think it’s just as important that we get the chance to play with a huge range of, not just representation, though I think that is absolutely the first step, but also thinking about meaningful change beyond representation, and starting to think about the labor that goes into theater,” Wear said. “If we want to create this work, we actually often need additional resources or additional time thinking about it in terms of training, so thinking about it in terms of preparatory programs in high school and college. And we have an incredible plethora of playwrights out there who are writing vibrant, dynamic. subtle, hilarious, hysterical, furious work; and now I think it’s about considering how we can produce more of it, and engage with it on its own terms as opposed to the preconceived notions that we might be coming in with.”

“Kim’s Convenience” is on stage at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville through Feb. 19, and at Horizon Theatre in Little Five Points from March 3 – April 2. Tickets and more information for the Aurora Theatre production are available here, and information on Horizon Theatre’s dates can be found here.