‘Kim’s Convenience’ sells familiar goods at Aurora

If there’s one thing Ins Choi’s “Kim’s Convenience” proves, it’s probably that modern family dynamics are generally universal, whatever their racial or cultural specifics. But, if there’s another thing the play proves, it’s that a potentially unique variation on such a story, this time from the perspective of a Korean family in Toronto, might be just as routine and run-of-the-mill as any other version.

From the neighborhood convenience store he owns and operates, Appa Kim has established a friendly rapport with his multiethnic customers, occasionally dispensing parental advice, and frequently enlightening them with anecdotes about Korean history. Indeed, he takes great pride in his Korean heritage, and more than a little umbrage when people mistakenly identify him as Japanese instead.

His anti-Japan views, largely stemming from the country’s 1904 military attack on his homeland, manifest humorously. When Appa isn’t selling lottery tickets, he’s selling the advantages of a new energy drink made from Korean ginseng, as opposed to the lesser Japanese variety. And pity poor motorists illegally parked outside his shop, should they happen to be driving any car made in Japan.

In Aurora Theatre’s marginal staging of “Kim’s Convenience,” directed by Rebecca Wear (“Hometown Boy” at Actor’s Express), Vancouver-based James Yi comfortably inhabits the leading role, fittingly for an actor who has already portrayed the character in various other productions around Canada.

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Appa’s tips on product placement or spotting shoplifters is mostly lost on his glorified part-time clerk — his anglicized daughter, Janet, an aspiring professional photographer supposedly in her 30s, although Caroline Donica opts to depict her as some sort of a spunky teenybopper. Elsewhere, Yingling Zhu is burdened with the underwritten part of Umma, the wife and mother of the Kim family, who spends a lot of her time at a church that’s on the verge of closing due to its dwindling congregation.

Rounding out the cast: Ryan Vo (reuniting with director Wear from “Hometown Boy”) is Jung, Appa’s estranged son, who inevitably returns to make amends, vaguely addressing his criminal record and sharing snapshots of his own young son; and a versatile Lamar K. Cheston plays a couple of customers, in addition to Janet’s prospective love interest, a policeman and former childhood crush of hers.

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Appa is eventually forced to contemplate an “exit plan,” after a slick real-estate developer (Cheston again) makes him an offer to buy the small convenience store, in anticipation of the planned opening of a big Walmart nearby. Soon, Appa ponders at one point, “What is my story? This store is my story, and if I just sell it, my story is over.” Suffice to say, in the sentimental interest of keeping his legacy alive, the plot quickly develops in a convenient and utterly predictable fashion.

Wear’s Aurora show earns a few higher marks on the design front, beginning with yet another outstanding set by scenic designers Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay (essentially one-upping their work on Horizon’s “Citizens Market” several years ago). For an otherwise relatively superfluous flashback scene, projections across the top of the set cleverly display time-lapsed street and sidewalk traffic in reverse, and then appear again in forward motion to return the story back to the present.

As a courtesy for Korean-speaking members of the audience, all of the play’s predominant English dialogue is accompanied by Korean supertitles in that same strip above the stage. English-speaking viewers, on the other hand, aren’t extended a similar courtesy during isolated conversations between Appa and Umma that are delivered entirely in Korean.

Not that it really matters, in the end. There isn’t very much of a challenge in catching the basic drift of “Kim’s Convenience,” when, as it turns out, if we’ve seen one play about dysfunctional family dynamics, evidently we’ve seen them all anyway.


THEATER REVIEW

“Kim’s Convenience”

Through Feb. 19. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $18-$50. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222, auroratheatre.com.

Bottom line: Stories and characters can be formulaic and one-dimensional, whatever their racial or cultural specifics.