Kim’s Convenience: shop here

Lee Shorten and James Yi are in Kim's Convenience at Pacific Theatre.

Director Kaitlin Williams’s blocking helps to make the relationships in Kim’s Convenience resonant. (Photo by Jalen Saip)

Ah, the appeal of an almost-racist joke! In Kim’s Convenience, the play that spawned the TV series, writer Ins Choi finds the sweet spot as he tickles the edges of transgression.

Appa (Dad) and Umma (Mom) run a convenience store in Regent’s Park, Toronto. Appa regards the store as his legacy and he wants his 30-year-old daughter Janet to take it over when he retires, but Janet considers herself a photographer. Appa hit Janet’s bother Jung so hard when he was 16 that Jung was hospitalized for several days. He left home and hasn’t spoken to Appa since, although he still sneaks conversations with Umma at their church.

Kim’s Convenience trades in stereotypes—cleverly, for the most part, and without reducing the characters. Appa is stereotypically undemonstrative and there are lots of jokes about that—“I am serious. This is my serious face”—but Choi also allows Appa to show the depth of his feelings. Appa tells a moving story about Korean-black relations during the Rodney King riots in LA, for instance. But, after almost every revelation, Choi flips things around again. After one catharsis, Janet hugs her dad, who immediately reverts to type, stiffens and says, “Okay, that’s enough! Let go, Janet!”

In the best riff in the show, Choi flirts with offending just about every minority there is as Appa gives Janet a lesson in how to spot shoplifters: “Fat black girl is no steal. Fat white guy, that’s steal…Lesbian is steal. Two lesbians, that’s no steal. That’s cancel-out combo.” Appa’s wacky system is all about combinations; no group is consistently stigmatized: Choi gives us the thrill of audacity without actually causing damage.

And the heart of the play, which is about difficult love between parents and children, is touching.

In director Kaitlin Williams’s production, it all works.

For starters, Williams has cast extremely well. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen James Yi (Appa) onstage before but this guy’s got unbelievable chops. Yi nails every moment of the humour without ever losing touch with Appa’s deep internal life.

And get a load of Jessie Liang (Janet)! She’s still studying acting at Studio 58, but she performs with the aplomb of a pro. Maki Yi, who plays Umma, and Lee Shorten, who plays Jung, also impressed me. In the climactic scene, Shorten tore my heart out.

Tré Cotton plays a bunch of characters, including Alex, a cop Janet has a crush on. Choi has written that romance in crazily abbreviated shorthand and Cotten leans into this naïveté a bit heavily, but what the heck; I can’t imagine another actor matching Cotten’s charm.

There’s another convention in Kim’s Convenience that’s more problematic for me. To get his way, Appa regularly uses martial arts to bend other characters’ arms, putting them in pain until they submit to his will. Appa’s intentions are always benign—and comedy is about outrageousness and extremity—so it’s not the action we see in the play that I have an essential problem with. It’s the off-stage violence of the blow that put Jung in the hospital that makes me uneasy. It’s never addressed. And my awareness of that event colours how I see the subsequent joke of Appa’s physical bullying.

Still, Kim’s Convenience has so much to offer—including Carolyn Rapanos’s microscopically perfect set. It’s  so authentic that, after the show, I wanted to buy snacks from that store.

KIIM’S CONVENIENCE By Ins Choi. Directed by Kaitlin Williams. A Pacific Theatre production at Pacific Theatre on Wednesday, September 19.  Continues until October 6. 

Tickets.

 

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: curiously, it both works and doesn’t work

The Arts Club Theatre is producing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Daniel Doheny’s thorough performance centres The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Because its heart is simple but pure, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is both boring and moving.

Based on Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel, Simon Stephens’s play follows Christopher, a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, as he tries to figure out who killed Wellington, his neighbour’s standard poodle, with a pitchfork. Christopher’s dad, Ed, who is raising his son on his own, tries to discourage him, but Christopher persists and his sleuthing leads him to taking a solo journey by train from Swindon to London, which is a heroic quest for somebody so prone to sensory overload.

The relationship between Ed and Christopher is complicated. Ed loves his challenging boy furiously—sometimes too furiously: at one point, he smacks him in the face. And there are other transgressions. The scene in which Ed begs Christopher to trust him again is heartbreaking. Much of the rest of the story is disappointingly straightforward, however; you can see its conclusions coming from light years away. [Read more…]

REVIEW FINDER: 40—forty!—Vancouver Fringe reviews

This website has the MOST—and the MOST INFORMED—reviews of show at the Vancouver Fringe.

Here you go: 40 of ’em. FORTY!

5-Step Guide to Being German

ADHD Project, The

Al Lafrance: I Think I’m Dead

Angels and Aliens

Awkward Hug

Banned in The USA

Big Queer Filipino Karaoke Night

Big Sister

Blackbird

Bridge, The

Brief History of Beer, A

C-

Cocky

Dyck Spacee – A Spy-Fi Improvised Radio Play

Fake Ghost Tours

Field Zoology 101

FIX

Forget Me Not – The Alzheimer’s Whodunnit

Gossamer Obsessions

Jan & Peg’s Ritual Sacrifice

Jasper in Deadland

Jon Bennett: How I Learned To Hug

Lady Show, The

Magical Mystery Detour

Martin Dockery: Delirium

Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush

My Imagination Ran Away Without Me

No Belles

One Step at a Time

Poly Queer Love Ballad

Rabbit Hole

Red Bastard: Lie With Me

Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land

Ruby Rocket Returns!

Self-ish

Small Town Boys

Ten Tips for a Collapsed Uterus

TravelTheatrics

Unscriptured

Vampires in Barcelona

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BIG QUEER FILIPINO KARAOKE NIGHT

> Colin Thomas

Let’s hear if for queer representation from communities of colour! And let’s acknowledge that this particular show could be a whole lot better.

In Big Queer Filipino Karaoke Night!,Vancouver drag artist Davey Calderon remembers his first visit to the Philippines in 2016. He grew up in Canada, doesn’t speak Tagalog, and admits “Sometimes I feel like a Canadian alien in a Filipino bodysuit.”

Calderon’s exploration of queerness across lines of cultural identity can be moving—especially in a passage in which he describes interacting with a defiant and vulnerable bakla(queer) Filipino boy.

And, under Chris Lam’s direction, Calderon does a good job of working the space in the XY bar—sitting down at one of the tables to lead its occupants in a drinking game, for instance.

But Calderon’s drag persona Ate Dee Dee is an awkward combination of overbearing and uncertain. The night I attended, Dee Dee’s mic was way too loud. When she was singing—this is all framed as karaoke, remember—some of the notes she hit made me wince. And her show is far too long. On Thursday night, Dee Dee went over her allotted time by half an hour. That’s inconsiderate, especially at the Fringe, and there’s no excuse for it: it would be easy to cut huge chunks of this material. 

Remaining performances at XY on September 15 (3 p.m. and 7 p.m.), and 16 (2 p.m. and 6 p.m.)

Tickets

 

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DYCK SPACEE – A SPY-FI IMPROVISED RADIO PLAY

> David Johnston *

Five actors are arrayed behind a microphone/sound effects table, while a sixth directs from a tech booth. We’re watching a live improvised taping of a detective radio serial that is equal partsnoirand sci-fi. In reality, it is equal parts tentative and awkward.

Noir and sci-fi are such impressively deep genres. Why, oh why would you combine them without a working knowledge of either?

I suppose it’s possible I saw Dyck Spacee on an off night and the basic, uninspired improv was not representative of the show’s potential. But between the scripted and unfunny setup, the inconsistent plotting, and the dozens of thudding jokes, I doubt it.

I did laugh occasionally, in the same way that hurling a jar of marmalade at a ceiling fan would occasionally get some on my toast. Dyck Spacee aims very high and almost nothing sticks.

Remaining performances at the Improv Comedy Institute on September 14 (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.), and 15 (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.)

Tickets

* This is a guest review.

David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He recently hailed from the Edmonton Fringe, where he saw many excellent shows and also ate a green onion cake. The green onion cake got three-and-a-half stars. David is a recent graduate of Studio 58, and is currently writing a script about reviews, so this should be a rather meta experience. He’s delighted to join FRESH SHEET for the Vancouver Fringe.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.  

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

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MY IMAGINATION RAN AWAY WITHOUT ME

> David Johnston

This show is spectacular, by the strictest definition: a spectacle, and not much else.

There’s nothing in the way of plot. This story fragments in this 20-minute-long acrobatics recital range from simplistic (a man watches anime…and then fights an anime character!) to ludicrously insane (so the insurance salesman climbs onto the zombiecoaster…) and it’s unmemorable.

There’s nothing in the way of acting. Every line delivery from this eight-member cast has a rough, stilted feel rarely found outside of fabric softener commercials or porn.

So we’re left with the spectacle, which is unquestionably impressive and beautiful, with backflips and balances and body tosses. Is that enough? Well, there’s a tentativeness to some of the setups and they biffed the timing on a few of the complicated tricks. I’m hypercritical here because when the acrobatics is all there is, it sort of has to be perfect. Which this was not quite.

There’s a way to marry circus and theatre in a wondrous combination. This is not it.

Remaining performances at the Waterfront Theatre on September 15 (10:10 p.m.) and September 16 (5:15p.m.)

Tickets

* This is a guest review.

David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He recently hailed from the Edmonton Fringe, where he saw many excellent shows and also ate a green onion cake. The green onion cake got three-and-a-half stars. David is a recent graduate of Studio 58, and is currently writing a script about reviews, so this should be a rather meta experience. He’s delighted to join FRESH SHEET for the Vancouver Fringe.

 

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

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RABBIT HOLE

> Colin Thomas

When Rabbit Hole starts, it’s been eight months since Becca and Howie’s four-year-old son Danny was hit by a car and killed. The driver was a teenager named Jason Willette.

In its diligent examination of the emotional impact of Danny’s death on his parents and extended family—as well as on Jason—Rabbit Hole can feel like an illustrated grief manual, but it gives the actors lots of complicated and high-stakes emotions to play and this company finds considerable success with it.

Playing Becca’s mom, Nat, Linda Darlow is as working-class authentic as second-hand polyester. Darlow’s pushy, witty Nat is also beautifully emotionally bruised. Braden Lock brings similar responsiveness to Jason. And Lesli Brownlee contributes nuance and comic spin as Becca’s sister Izzy. Weirdly, Lori Watt’s Becca doesn’t share her family’s New York accent, but Watt’s fearlessness fuels this production’s most moving passage.

The only hole in the cast is Chris Nowland, who plays Howie with so little internal tension that, when Howie yells, he’s just…yelling.

Remaining performances at the Vancity Culture Lab on September 15 (9:40 p.m.), and 16 (3:30 p.m.) 

Tickets

 

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And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

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BANNED IN THE USA

> Colin Thomas

There are a whole lot of performers on the fringe festival circuit who lean too heavily on the eccentricity of their delivery. But it doesn’t matter how quickly you can talk, how much you flap around, how much you sweat, or how cunningly you can transform yourself into inanimate objects if you don’t have a meaningful, well-crafted story to tell.

Gerard Harris, who wrote and performs Banned in the USA, speaks rapidly but haltingly. At the performance I saw, he kept fretting about how much material he could include and still finish his show on time. Dude, don’t bother me with that. Figure it out and get on with it. And that wired stop-and-start thing makes for a bumpy ride.

What’s all of this in aid of? Mostly a story about trying to catch a couple of planes on time. So what? There’s nothing particularly insightful, funny, or engaging here, so who cares?

Remaining performances at the Arts Umbrella on September 13 (8 p.m.), 14 (10 p.m.), and 16 (6:15 p.m.)

Tickets

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.  

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

JON BENNETT: HOW I LEARNED TO HUG

> Sarvin Esmaeili *

The speed of Jon Bennett’s storytelling left me open-mouthed.

He starts by casually chatting with the audience. Then he subtly shifts into the heart of his show with the question, “How many of you have missed your plane before?… Well,nobody can beat my number. I’ve missed my plane 14 times during the years!”

From there, Bennett tells us about his childhood, puberty, and first love, all of which culminates in his inability to express his affection in public. He refuses to hug anyone, which interferes with his relationships.

I love how Bennett has no boundaries with his audience. He asks an audience member to zip up his shiny pink dress, picks someone to play the role of his granny, and asks someone else to hold a cup for him to pee into.

And I love how he evoked his relationships by showing pictures of his exes on-screen along with nicknames—including Boring Kelly.

Maybe Bennett is  such a speedy storyteller because he has so much to say in just one hour.

Remaining Performances at Waterfront Theatre on September 14 (5 p.m.) and 15 (4:20 p.m.)

Tickets

* This is a guest review.

Sarvin Esmaeilicurrently studies at Studio 58. She is a passionate 19-year-old theatre artist who cares a lot about diversity, inclusion and creating her own theatre and music. Sarvin is fluent in three languages: Farsi, English, and French. She loves reading, travelling, writing and going to the theatre. She is a co-playwright/performer of One of a Kind at the 2018 Vancouver International Children’s Festival and Doors of Choice and Identity at Vancouver Youth Theatre. She has done community theatre at Evergreen Cultural Center, Place des Arts and Pinetree Secondary’s Treehouse Theatre.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

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SMALL TOWN BOYS

> Sarvin Ismaeili *

Small Town Boys helped me to understand men’s vulnerability.

Performer/writer Sean Casey Leclaire introduces us to a group of boys who start hanging out together in suburban Montreal in 1970. Then the narrator follows his pals Bruno and Triple D out west. It’s a love story of sorts. But only one boy survives.

When Leclaire says, “No man is born violent”. I couldn’t agree with him more. And, in Small Town Boys, Leclaire looks for the roots of violence in the boys’ histories, their parenting, and their society.

That said, there are problems with Leclaire’s acting performance. When he walks onstage, he brings no energy, so it’s hard for him to drive his scenes. There are unnecessary pauses and the show feels under-rehearsed.

Still, Small Town Boys shifted my negative judgments of violent men—and that’s something.

Remaining Performances at the Waterfront Theatre on September 13 (6:45 p.m.), 15 (6:15 p.m.), and 16 (3:15 p.m.)

Tickets

 

* This is a guest review.

Sarvin Esmaeili currently studies at Studio 58. She is a passionate 19-year-old theatre artist who cares a lot about diversity, inclusion and creating her own theatre and music. Sarvin is fluent in three languages: Farsi, English, and French. She loves reading, travelling, writing and going to the theatre. She is a co-playwright/performer of One of a Kind at the 2018 Vancouver International Children’s Festival and Doors of Choice and Identity at Vancouver Youth Theatre. She has done community theatre at Evergreen Cultural Center, Place des Arts and Pinetree Secondary’s Treehouse Theatre.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

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