I had never watched an episode of the TV series before catching the preview of the play in Vancouver last Thursday. In hindsight, I’m glad that I went in without any pre-conceived notions. I was armed only with the knowledge that it was going to be a comedy - but it was so much more than that, really.
Pacific Theatre’s dark, intimate setting was perfect for a show like this. It didn’t feel like we were watching the Kim family’s interactions as passive audience members. It felt like we were right there, too, hidden behind shelves of cereal boxes and ramyeon packets as Appa repeatedly told his daughter Janet that she would be taking over the convenience store, and during Appa and Jung’s reunion scene.
In most Asian families, I find that emotions are hardly ever a part of conversations. Instead, we tend to circle around them, couch them, and conceal them. It always tickles me when I overhear parents from other cultures ask their children how they feel, what they’d like to eat, what toys they want to play with… you get the drift. In Asian cultures, it’s more like: Ok, time to eat. Eat whatever is in front of you. Have you finished your homework yet? Why not? Do it. Now.
I’m not trying to say Asian parenting styles are bad. It’s just how affection and concern is typically shown - not directly but indirectly, and often with gruff, “well-meaning” actions delivered at the same time.
The play is spot-on in showcasing such parent-child interactions in its full, authentic glory. Like how Janet’s objections are completely ignored and railroaded by Appa, and he simply goes on to teach her how to spot potential thieves in the store (now that was one laughter-inducing scene!). Or when Appa and Jung finally see each other face to face, but all they can talk about is adjusting the price of the Korean ginseng drinks on the counter at first.
In spite of - or possibly because of - this rather Asian tendency to obfuscate and avoid talking about soul-stirring stuff, there was so much latent tension in the room that it built up to the pivotal final scene wonderfully. From my second-row seat, I had a clear view of everything that was happening onstage. As father and son exchanged words awkwardly and yet tender-heartedly, I had to look away at times because their emotions were getting too raw, and too real, for me to witness. (I admit that I chickened out, while my husband teared a little, as did a few other folks seated near me who seemed to suddenly have something in their eyes.)
It might not have been apparent, but love was there as Appa and Jung talked about the latter’s job, his relationship, and his future. Love was there when Appa declared that Jung should take over the store. Love was there, too, when Appa allowed Jung to stand behind the cashier counter all alone and disappeared offstage.
I find such great comfort in the redemptive nature of the narrative performed that night. It’s a story that never gets old: the prodigal son returning, and the father rejoicing. How privileged I am to have a Father who will never fail me, and will never fail to love me. How privileged we are to be called sons and daughters of God, to rest secure in the knowledge that we are loved, that we don’t need to earn or gain it one bit, and that no matter how far we’ve strayed, our Father longs to welcome us home.
Oh, how He loves us so.