Jimmy Yi well remembers the night COVID-19 caused the temporary collapse of live theatre shows globally.
“In Surrey, we did a lot of shows there, at least a week, then we went to Hope and Chilliwack, I think – that was our last show,” Yi recalled in a phone call.
“I remember the news about COVID spreading a lot, and we’d been selling out everywhere. But when we got to Chilliwack it was half full, and we’d been hearing all day about this virus. It was eerie, and while we were backstage, we heard that the NBA was shutting down. That’s when everything started shutting down.”
Now, nearly two years later, Yi is back playing Appa, a Korean shopkeeper, for his fifth run with this theatrical version of “Kim’s Convenience,” Ins Choi’s hit debut play, at Vancouver’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage from Feb. 24 to March 27.
Set in a family-run corner store in the heart of Toronto’s Regent Park, the script finds Yi’s character grappling with both a changing neighbourhood landscape and the chasm between him and his second-generation children.
It’s one of those “special plays that surprises the audience by hitting them on so many levels emotionally,” Yi says.
“One minute you’re laughing hysterically, and the next minute you’re fighting back tears and wondering why you haven’t called your dad. It’s special because it hits home with every single person in the audience, no matter what race, gender or age.”
Born in Korea and raised in Cleveland, Yi now lives in Surrey’s Fraser Heights neighbourhood and works as an associate pastor at New Joy Church, on 104th Avenue in Guildford.
In the TV series “Kim’s Convenience,” Yi played chauvinistic rich guy Jimmy Young, a recurring role, but he’s the star of the Arts Club stage show, directed by Kaitlin Williams and based on Pacific Theatre’s 2018 production.
“It’s not every day that I get to play a really juicy role like this, and then to see how it impacts the audience – it’s so rewarding to do this role,” Yi underlined. “A role like this comes only once in a lifetime, or maybe a few times in a lifetime, so I want to ride this thing as long as I can.
“This is the same group, more or less,” Yi added, “and it’s my fifth run with this production of ‘Kim’s,’ and I’ve done over 200 shows by now.”
The cast also features Andrew Creightney (as Rich, Mr. Lee, Mike and Alex), Brianna Kim (Janet), Howie Lai (Jung) and Maki Yi (Umma).
The Stanley run of shows will be followed by two weeks in Kamloops and another two in Calgary, explained Yi, who says he’s been acting throughout the pandemic – “all film and TV,” he noted, “because there’s been no theatre work for me during that time. It’s exciting to be back on stage, oh yeah.”
Over the past couple of years Yi acted in “a few Hallmark type movies,” he said, “and then I was involved in a film in Taiwan — it’s in theatres now, but a lot of theatres won’t release it because it’s quite an indictment against the government of China for human-rights violations. It’s a political thriller called ‘Unsilenced,’ in limited theatres in the States and opening in Canada on Feb. 25. I haven’t seen it yet but it’s been getting really good reviews.”
He plays a character named Zhu, a government official responsible for cracking down on Falun Gong practitioners, Yi explained.
“It’s an evil plot of how to use the media and even deceived innocent people to volunteer to light themselves on fire and being told that, ‘Oh, you know, it’s all flame-repellent and we’ll put out the fire right away, don’t worry.’ But then they allow these people to burn themselves to death, and pay them off to say they’re Falun Gong. It’s really crazy but actually a true story, and my character is probably fictitious, a character representing what happened. It was a really interesting role and I had to speak Mandarin, which I don’t speak, but I had to memorize those lines.”
As for the current run of “Kim’s Convenience” on stage, director Williams and assistant director Soran Nakai say they’re “overjoyed to be opening the store once again,” nearly two years after the cancellation of the 2020 tour.
“For us,” the directors stated, “this is a story about reconciliation, sacrifice, and deep family love. We know that these themes will resonate even deeper with audiences after the last two years.”
Special performances during the Stanley run include Sunday Salon (March 6), Talkback Tuesday (March 15), VocalEye shows with live description (March 20, 25), a “relaxed” performance “designed for people who may not be comfortable in a traditional theatre setting” (March 20) and an American Sign Language (ASL) performance for the deaf (March 23).
Exciting things happen As the Stage Turns! Testing the revolve as in just over one week @theArtsClub Noises Off opens on our stage! Hilarity! Spinning stages! Farce! Funniness! Get your tickets now! https://t.co/0AHlcjBJNX pic.twitter.com/hlux6Eu9Kl
— Massey Theatre (@Masseytheatre) February 8, 2022
In New Westminster this month, the Arts Club brings the play-within-a-play comedy “Noises Off” to Massey Theatre from Feb. 15-27. Hailed as “the funniest farce ever written” (by Michael Frayn, in 1982), the Scott Bellis-directed play “treats audiences to a hilarious peek at a second-tier acting troupe performing a show,” says a post on masseytheatre.com.
In Vancouver, next up for the Arts Club is Farren Timoteo’s “Made in Italy,” on the Granville Island Stage for a month starting March 17. It’s a music-fueled, coming-of-age story about a teen growing up in rural Jasper, Alberta. “Tired of living up to his traditional Italian-immigrant father’s expectations and the constant bullying from his Canadian peers, Francesco (Mantini) takes inspiration from pop icons John Travolta and Rocky Balboa to reinvent himself as Frank Martin,” explains an event advisory. “Equal parts comedy and music, ‘Made in Italy’ is a story of father and son finding themselves despite their differences.”