Visiting Soulpepper’s Christmas Shops ~ Natalie Dewan

Sesaya

Sesaya

Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

As Arpita Ghosal wrote, the trouble with Soulpepper’s Family Festival is the difficulty of choosing from among a fantastic array of performances. While it’s nearly impossible to get to them all, I managed to squeeze two into one week. The holiday season is a busy time for us all, but both Parfumerie and Kim’s Convenience are worth taking a moment to stop, breathe, and enjoy.

Michelle Monteith and Gregory Prest in Parfumerie; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Michelle Monteith and Gregory Prest in Parfumerie; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Parfumerie inspired several films and musicals, including The Shop Around the Corner and its more famous remake, You’ve Got Mail. That is all I knew about this play going into it, and my biggest takeaway is that it helps to know a little bit more. It’s rather important that this play was written in 1937 by Miklós Lászlóa Jewish-Hungarian man, one year before he fled to the U.S. in anticipation of the coming war.

Parfumerie is well acted, beautifully designed, and full of Christmas cheer; but if (like me) you’re expecting a light, Nora Ephron-esque rom-com, you’re in for a bit of a surprise. The play is certainly funny, and has a sweet romantic story, but it also has some dark moments. The play asks some hard questions about love, fidelity, and happiness that are not necessarily answered, so it is better understood and appreciated by older children.

My second Family Festival show was Kim’s Convenience. Written by Canadian Ins Choi for the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival, Kim’s Convenience has become the little-Fringe-show-that-could–and with good reason. Focusing on a Korean family who own a convenience store in Regent Park, the play offers a funny, sad, and heartwarming reflection on family, duty, success and happiness (among other things).

Jean Yoon & Paul Sun-Hyung Lee in Kim's Convenience; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Jean Yoon & Paul Sun-Hyung Lee in Kim’s Convenience; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

 

I attended a weekday matinee of Kim’s, full of school groups, and the students’ engagement is best endorsement for this show. I’ve been to my fair share of performances, full of giggling, whispering, and reacting…and this crowd was boisterous — their noise a genuine reaction to what was happening onstage. The performance I saw included a talkback with the actors and playwright (one of Soulpepper’s many fantastic outreach and education programs). The students asked insightful questions, and received honest, introspective answers. For example, when asked what he intended the message of the play to be, Ins Choi answered that he didn’t have one. Honestly, he replied, he just wanted to tell a story, make people laugh, and write a part for himself — a part that has since been taken up by newcomer Patrick Kwok-Choon, whose own parents worked in convenience stores when he was growing up.

With its reflections on family dynamics and the immigrant experience (particularly in Toronto), I think this is an important play for young people, and it deserves its place in the Family Festival. Like Parfumerie, however, it is better suited for older children and adults, especially in light of  themes like complicated family dynamics (not to mention some mild swearing).

If you’re looking for a fun family production to take your young kids to, consider offerings in the Family Festival, like Tricks and Winter Waves. If your children are older–or if you can make time–Kim’s Convenience is well worth a visit.

News You Can Use

What: Soulpepper Family Festival, including:

  • Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi; directed by Weyni Mengesha. See the featurette.
  • Parfumerie by Miklós László, adapted by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robbins; directed by Morris Panych. See the Parfumerie trailer

When: Until January 3, 2016

Where: The Bluma Appel Theatre in the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Toronto, ON

For Information and Tickets: Soulpepper.ca/Family and 416.866.8666

Family Festival Highlights: Watch it here.

© 2015 Natalie Dewan, Sesaya

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