A Korean take on the family sitcom is elevated less by its ethnic update than by the faultless comic performance of its lead. It’s true the “Kim family story” of central Torontonian newcomers facing gentrification gives modern ground for playwright Ins Choi to till. Strained relations between Asian nations, language barriers, and the first/second immigrant generation gap find laughs alongside the usual material.
But its Paul Sun-Hyung Lee’s note-perfect, crisply timed performance as Appa that makes the material sing. By turns cajoling, caring, scary, and silly, his grumpy old patriarch squeezes laughs out of the most predictable set ups while hitting fresher material out of the park.
And while Choi has primarily set out to build a fun study in parent-child relationships (supported by a strong, playful cast), the battle Lee crafts between two distinct versions of Appa – a cynical, violent bully on the one hand and a compassionate man-child on the other – becomes the show’s de facto focus.
It’s easy to see why the show was held over at both the Toronto Fringe and Soulpepper. The reason shuffles onto stage even before the lights go down.
By Ins Choi
John Hirsch Stage (MTC)
Through April 5
Directed by Weyni Mengesha; remount directed by Albert Schultz; with Ins Choi, Chantelle Han, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Jane Luk and Andre Sills; set and costume design by Ken MacKenzie; lighting design by Lorenzo Savoini; sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne; fight direction and dialect coaching by Sean Baek; dialect coaching by Liza Paul; Alexander coaching by Kelly McEvenue; stage managed by Kat Chin; assistant stage managed by Neha Ross.
Matthew TenBruggencate is a Winnipeg-based writer. He is owned by two cats. Follow him @tenbruggencate, where is he spreading nasty rumours about you.