“My Home on the Moon” at San Francisco Playhouse

written by Minna Lee
directed by Mei Ann Teo

San Francisco, CA
at San Francisco Playhouse

The surface story is straight-forward: a failing Vietnamese pho noodle restaurant owner  applies to a corporation’s community support program for help. Her application is selected and she and the shop’s cook are completely supported. They achieve financial and critical success, and there’s some positive emotional experiences thrown in, too.

The actors, the characterizaitons, THE SET!, all are top quality and make My Home on the Moon feel comfortable. It’s a worthwhile story to enjoy. It never presents at all as a new effort by a virgin playwright… which this production is.

The plot develops smoothly, quickly, and with intense humor. An example: at one point a restaurant critic (Will Dao) appears to talk about the food with his camera operator recording every twitch and bit of wisdom he spews. The critic is hammily all about his looks and voice on the video being made of his comments. It’s a quick amusing scene that both tells about the positive progress of the restuarnt while at the same time zinging the social influencer phenomenon so powerful in the world of 2024.

L-R) A food critic (Will Dao) samples cuisine, watched by Lan (Sharon Omi), Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson) and a camera person (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart) in San Francisco Playhouse's World Premiere Play "My Home on the Moon," performing January 25 - February 24.

(L-R) A food critic (Will Dao) samples cuisine, watched by Lan (Sharon Omi), Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson) and a camera person (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart) in San Francisco Playhouse’s World Premiere Play “My Home on the Moon,” performing January 25 – February 24.
SF Playhouse photo by Jessica Palopoli.

That’s the power and focus of this production. There’s a story progressing nicely while we deal with more and more complex aspects of today’s world and technology.

Most of the onstage activity concerns the interaction between restaurant ower Lan (Sharon Omi), the cook Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson), and the corporation’s helpful consultant Vera (Rinabeth Apostol). As Vera listens to what the other two want and dream of, she marshals the resources to make things perfect. 

An early accomplishment of Vera was to make the interior walls orange, something Lan thought would improve the atmosphere. Vera then took on publicty with textbook techniques like giving the food dishes punny names. Her actions are great successes!

Lan (Sharon Omi - center) celebrates the new year with lion dancers (left - Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, right- Will Dao). SF Playhouse photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Lan (Sharon Omi – center) celebrates the new year with lion dancers (left – Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, right- Will Dao)
SF Playhouse photo by Jessica Palopoli..

The popularity of the shop grows and the culinary variety and entertainment accoutrements dazzle.

The description of some of the custom dishes that Mai creates bothered one of my Vietnamese friends because, he says, you’d never put those ingredients together in Vietname. But, that’s the inventiveness of this newly successful pho spot.  And, its focus is making the characters happy. Happy with the financial success, happy with the culinary innovation and recognition… my friend’s traditional taste be damned.

Vera, too, is benefiting from the experience. Her focus initially is on the objective actions to take to improve the finances and occupancy of the restaurant. She has knowledge but not hands-on experience. But as the relationships progress she finds herself looking to learn and enjoy new things.

Like any substantial play, there is a considerable, “Yes, but…!” to the uplifting story of incredible accomplishement of the turnaround. 

Other reviews go into detail of what they think the issue the characters face is. I am not going to do that because you should come to your own realization when you’re ready.

Surfice to say that by the time a former restaurant employe (also played by Will Dao) disrupts the corporation’s shareholding meeting to complain about what they’ve done to the restaurant, most of us in the audience understand his point and probably agree with him.

CEO Gigi (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart) leads an investor's report protested by Beau (Will Dao)

CEO Gigi (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart) leads an investor’s report protested by Beau (Will Dao)
SF Playhouse photo by Jessica Palopoli.

The whole show is comic, clear, fun, but with a huge point to think about on the way home and the next day and … 

The show deals with issues we are hearing about in the news. Still, this production is witty, enjoyable, terrifically acted, clever, and on target.

Many moments deserve special shout-outs. Will Dao has some excellent shakes in physical comedy for two of his roles. The restaurant set changes and grows as its own character. Vera is a perfect learner at times and a perfect planner at others. Lan and Mai each are focused, different, and spectacular.

The writing is extremely careful, too. You know the saying that if they show a gun at the beginning of the play it better be used by the final curtain? Even small things that My Home on the Moon presents to the audience have meaning and deepen the story… even if it takes a day or two for the revelation about the relevancy to get into your consciousness. I’m thinking of contents of gift baskets, salmon, and strawberries among other objects that pistol whipped us.

There were a few new-play moments that need to be worked out. The most noticable was that at the end of the final scene the lights go out, but the audience isn’t sure they should clap until the actors come back on stage for the curtain call. No one I talked to thought that there could have been another scene in the play. It was complete! Still folks weren’t sure it was over. Maybe a sound effect or someting needs to queue the applause.

Overall My Home on the Moon is an excellent new play, brilliantly produced and performed. 

Now I’m off to eat a biscotti and think about seeing it again with the inevitable revisions. I am also looking to see what Minna Lee does next!

Ozdachs rating:  Rating: 4 and 1/2 Syntaxes out of 5


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“A Guide for the Homesick” at Theatre Rhinoceros

written by Ken Urban
directed by Alan Quismorio

San Francisco, CA
at Theatre Rhinoceros

I have stared at the computer screen for too long, trying to come up with a description of A Guide for the Homesick which is as positive-sounding as I feel about the production. I give up.

So, I will join The Rhino itself and other reviewers that make the storyline sound too gay, too implausible, and too simple: it’s a story about two men who pick each other up in a hotel bar. Sprinkle in social concerns about American missionaries invading Africa, unclear gender attraction, and mental illness. Stir and you have the play!

Except that when you’re at the theater you feel no patina of the show being either trite or being good for you. Instead you’re drawn into the personalities, the logical surprises, and surprisingly wonderful production values.

(Pictured l. to r.) Ian Brady plays “Jeremy” and Jordan Covington plays “Teddy” in the Theatre Rhinoceros production of A Guide for the Homesick by Ken Urban, directed by Alan S. Quismorio. Photo by Vince Thomas.

(Pictured l. to r.) Ian Brady plays Jeremy/Ed and Jordan Covington plays Teddy/Nicholas.
Photo by Vince Thomas.

First, Jordan Covington (Teddy/Nicholas) and Ian Brady (Jeremy/Ed) are spectacular young actors. They shift between their two roles flawlessly, and Jordan in particular has a feeling of contained power that he displays at decisive moments. I swear he had tears in his eyes in a scene as Nicholas when 10 seconds previously he was chattering on blithely as Teddy. 

Each character plays two characters and action occurs in Africa and Amsterdam. The swapping of identities and locations occurs instantaneously and clearly. Kudos to Director Alan Quismorio and the technical staff that make the changes in lighting and sound at just the right moment with just the right intensity. 

The stories of the characters reveal themselves at slowly and with emotional pain which is point of the 90-minute performance. Ken Urban makes us want to know more and more, even when we fear what may happen.

So, another shout-out to Theatre Rhino for its play selection. It’s a gay-themed story that doesn’t have tired campiness or appeal to only the over 65 crowd. This show is serious and set in current times with modern youthful characters. 

The final triumph to mention is The Rhino’s overcoming its current small space and making excellent choices in design. The audience sits in two rows of folding chairs about three feet from “the stage”. The stage is just the floor of a room that is a small commercial space. But, I saw the hotel room and the African clinic. The actors and technical staff made it easy for me to believe.

Jordan Covington and Ian Brady. Photo by Vince Thomas

Jordan Covington and Ian Brady. Photo by Vince Thomas

Of course, I would do some things differently. The most notable change I’d make is to the [spoiler alert] sex scene. The Rhino delivers it with on stage nudity — the actors are under the bedding, but their nakedness is pointed. We watch the actors dress the next morning and Jordan has a beautiful bare butt while Ian keeps the covers in front of him while he grabs underwear and puts it on. Instead of stripping under the covers and dressing again, I would have done a simple bedtime black out. I understand the gay demographic of The Rhino’s core audience likes naked men. Still, I felt the in-your-face nudity added nothing and would make me hesitate to recommend the play to some of my friends.

However, the bottom line is that the overall quality of the play, the performances, and the production earns A Guide to the Homesick 5 stars. Go see it, now through March 19th.

Ozdachs rating: 5 out of 5 Syntaxes


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Mexican Cruise Photos

Our recent 10-day cruise to Mexico had some spectacular visual moments. I am happy to share the better views and I have divvied up the photos so you can sample what you want… and maybe come back for another look, another city, another perspective.

Geoff and I have  over 600 pictures from the 10 days. Most we took ourselves although friends contributed some people shots. At any rate, I know that I avoid clicking when someone has posted 100 vacation photos (maybe even 10 photos!) – too much! And, many are not unique or good enough!

Overall we have deemed less than 1/3 of our collection worthy of sharing, and less than 7% are tagged as top quality.

So please visit the galleries you’d like to see – and I’d welcome comments or questions.

If you’re in any of the pictures and would like a copy, let me know and I’ll send you downloading instructions. And, I look forward to your comments and questions.

Finally, you can read my comments about the cruise in an earlier blog entry.

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Cruising on the Royal Princess

We were extremely happy to get back on a cruise ship after three years and several false starts. Our 10-day adventure on the Royal Princess marked the first time we have been able to do nothing together since the pandemic/endemic and other disruptions took over the world. It was an important and positive experience.

Our minisuite from the hallway.

Our minisuite home for 10 days.
Click on any picture for a full-size version.

We took a Mexican Riviera trip with portFroyal calls in Manzanillo, Mazatlán,  Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo. We were on board January 6-16, 2023.

We were delighted with the cruise, but we kept running into things that just should have been done a bit better.

Here are some thoughts on our days. Maybe our notes will help others plan. Or, just maybe, someone in the cruise line will stumble across this post and get some ideas on how to make 2023 cruising better!

First, the staff was excellent with several standouts for above and beyond service. We will mention them by name in the Princess survey.

We also appreciated being in Club Class because we avoided long waits which our traveling companions reported in the regular dining rooms. We missed being allowed to have breakfast in Sabatini’s – a Club Class perk on prior cruises, but still found the extra service and care worthwhile.

LGBTQ Group meeting at the Wheelhouse

LGBTQ Group meeting at the Wheelhouse

We also had our best LGBTQ group gatherings of any cruise. Thanks to a savvy, friendly fellow passenger, Terri, the Wheelhouse gathering space welcomed 10-20 people every day. Ten or so of us were regulars, and it was great fun to get to know people over the days.

Thanks, Terri!

Still, service in several bars was off. Several days we’d wait 10+ minutes in Crooners to be recognized and approached for our order. The same happened a couple tries in the Sea View bar. When they saw us, the staff was friendly but they felt overworked and the scene was disorganized.

Problems with Passenger Service

Unfortunately, the Passenger Service service was definitely off. It took us four days for our cabin phone to operate properly. The telephone’s Voicemail button didn’t work. Retrieval of messages was impossible. We tried to call Passenger Service Saturday morning — the first full day on board. We waited on hold for 10 minutes two times before giving up. Someone at the Cruise Critics meeting said we should report problems like the phone via the “Chat” function in the Princess Medallion phone app, and we made that report later Saturday morning during the Cruise Critics meeting. We were told on the app they’d look into it, but nothing happened. On Sunday I wrote a comment about the phone on the Princess form that was was delivered into our cabin soliciting our “First Impressions”.  I took that note down to the Passenger Service desk and handed it to the worker there. Nothing happened. Monday we went to Passenger Service and they sent our cabin steward to check the phone. He confirmed the problem and someone fixed the problem Monday afternoon. The first message we heard was for an occupant of the room on a prior cruise.

Sunrise from our Cabin

Sunrise from our Cabin on January 8th (no need to picture the broken phone.)

In addition to being put off by the four days it took for our phone to work, I am disappointed that my First Impressions comment received no response. I mentioned the phone and some other topics but never received an acknowledgement. Why ask for First Impressions if you’re going to ignore them?

Speaking of being ignored, we asked on Monday and later on Wednesday (Thursday?) about Chef’s Table dining. We were told we were put on the list and would get a letter when things were organized. We saw two seatings of chef’s table gather in the Wheelhouse but we received no letter or even a “we are sorry message.” We were platinum Club Class mini-suite passengers which would seem to call for SOME response. To be honest I wonder if someone didn’t want an LGBTQ couple in the group.

Princess Medallion App

As I mentioned, we used the Princess Medallion App to initially report our phone problem.  That app is heavily plugged by Princess and we are supposed to use it for all sorts of things from dining reservations to downloading photos. It is a good idea,… with lots of room for improvement.

Geoffrey having a cocktail at Crooners

Geoffrey having a cocktail at Crooners — He had to specify “no vermouth” to the waiter.

For example, you are supposed to order drinks on the app. You can, but you cannot customize the drink. There should be a line for comments so we can order a gin martini with “no vermouth” and other simple requests.

The app takes too long to download the events and information, and every time you come back to look at the schedule, the app re-loads the whole schedule. The app should do caching!

Some of the information on the app is not appropriate for phone display. Princess puts PDFs of the old printed port descriptions to tell you about the upcoming stops. The approach doesn’t work well.

We liked being able to look at and download the Princess photographers’ pictures of us on the app. However, as soon as you leave the ship, you can no longer download your photos or look at other historical information. We think you should be able to savor your memories when you’re back home.. at least for 30 days or so.

Finally, the app advertises certain higher end cocktails. That’s fine, but on our trip from day one the ship had no Hendricks. The whole ship was out. But, the app kept suggesting that we order Hendricks. They should have pulled the suggestion.

Normal Bitches

We know no cruise is perfect, and here are some items that could have gone wrong on any cruise,.. before or after Covid!

  1. The food was inferior at times. Papaya and melons were rock hard several tries. Lobster tails in the main dining room were way over salted. The special salmon fettucine Alfredo was very rich with some nice salmon bits, but there was no flavor in the sauce. Generally the food was at the low end of normal.
  2. We all thought the band, Supersonics?, was not great. The lead female vocalist didn’t sing very well.

What Was the Designer of the Royal Class Ship Thinking?

This was our first cruise on the huge Royal Princess. It was the first of this larger class of ship, and it holds 3560 passengers. Surprisingly and unfortunately, the larger number of passengers is not matched by larger public areas and facilities.

Overall the floor plan of the Royal is disappointing. There is no real promenade deck to walk around. The only walking space for exercise is on the top deck, and it only covers about 1/3 of the length of the ship.

The walking/running deck on the top deck.

The walking/running deck on the top deck.

The public areas feel smaller even though the ship is larger. The Wheelhouse bar area is cramped and blends into the Crown Grill. That makes the Crown Grill tremendously noisy and less special. There is a general lack of elegance… it feels like Princess is devolving. I hope it doesn’t continue down that path.

Not only does the Promenade deck not let you walk around the ship, it is closed off a lot of the time. Sometimes the deck was closed during arrival/departure moments when the Bridge referred to the view outside. The view was out there, but you couldn’t get to it unless you climbed up to the top of the ship.

The “Vista” lounge was tagged as the meeting spot for the afternoon Elite Cocktail party. It usually had all of the window shades pulled resulting in no “vista”. Further, the room is not conducive to casually meeting people. The set up is more for watching a show instead of socializing or seeing a sea vista. It felt like a waste of a room.  Why be on a ship if you’re going to keep the shades drawn all the time?

Similarly, the shades along the hallways near the Wheelhouse bar and the TV studio were almost always closed. Why? I’d emphasize the sea view!

Dinner at the Crown Grill with Chuck, Lou, Galen, Geoff, and Fred

Dinner at the Crown Grill with the
Wheelhouse Bar atmosphere all around

And, as I said before, the Wheelhouse opens up to the Crown Grill making the fine dining experience a noisy mess. Also, the ship schedules meetings in the Wheelhouse (LGBTQ, chef’s table, etc.) at 6 when the music starts.  Why have people meet when the music starts?  You cannot easily talk over the music.

Our hope is that Princess will stop supersizing the ships and focus on the passenger experience. Our ship wasn’t full, and I suspect that the ship design keeps some people from booking on the Royal class cruises. We hope that smaller, better designed ships will be home ported in San Francisco in the future.  We will happily go back on the Royal, but we would go back more happily to the Grand!

What Do We Really Think?

The cruise was wonderful. We spent time together while others took care of us. We met and enjoyed warm people. We had good weather and saw beautiful and interesting sights.

We recommend Princess and the cruise we took. We hope some of the nits we picked are resolved, and we also will be scouting the schedules for smaller ships that come to San Francisco!

View for our balcony on the morning of disembarkation.

The view from our balcony when we were docked back in San Francisco..

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Paris, March 14, 2006 – September 20, 2022

Ch. Wagsmore’s French Impressions ML

Paris is the most amazing gift we have ever received. Paris was a Champion show girl, and Geoffrey handled SeQueL and competed against Paris in the ring. They competed and flirted while they all looked for a nod from the judge.

Then one afternoon we received a phone call from Mary Louie, Paris’ owner. She asked if we would accept Paris into our pack, explaining she and her husband were splitting up.  I hate to see relationships end, but there was no hesitation that we would love to have Paris.

Geoffrey holds a newly arrived Paris in our backyard

Geoffrey holds a newly arrived Paris in our backyard.
(click on any photo in this post for a full-size version)

Paris always had her own classy style, and she loved being a surrogate mother and willing playmate. She was devilish while looking regal.

Paris "Gardening" in the Backyard

Paris studiously NOT jumping in the flower box

Paris in Apex and Zenith's whelping box along with SeQueL

Paris in Apex and Zenith’s whelping box along with SeQueL

Paris also had two unique, strong, spectacular abilities.

Most important, she let people relax and feel their emotions when holding her. Her support and love let an impressive number of adult men break down and cry.

We’d leave a visitor in the backyard with Paris while we fetched snacks, and we would return to see Paris being hugged while she licked the tears from their face. This happened a weirdly high number of times.

Firooz and Paris Snuggle

Firooz and Paris Happily Snuggle – No tears here!

This special bonding talent was strong when she was in the prime of her life, and it also continued into her maturity. Just last year our 30ish neighbors came over and met the pack. Ever since that visit they ask how Paris is doing as if the other girls were in the backup chorus.

Thank you, Paris, for being such a warm dog.

Now her other special talent is just as strong but not quite as charming.
Paris had the instinctive ability to be underfoot.
Her whole life she has suddenly shown up under me while I am chopping food for dinner. Or, I’ll turn around and on an unplanned impulse I will head for the refrigerator, only to have my leg bang into Paris’ side.

It’s not just me. She can predict where Geoff, our guests, anyone is about to walk and beat them there.

More amazing is that despite her recent blindness there has been no lessening of the ESP that gets her in front of me, even when I had no idea I was going in that direction.

Very fun… in retrospect. But, how did she do it so well so consistently?

For 16 1/2 years and one week, she blessed this side of the rainbow bridge. Thank you, Paris. We will miss you greatly.

Enjoy her memorial video at https://bit.ly/WagsmoresFrenchImpressions or visit her photo gallery at https://ozdachs.smugmug.com/Dachshunds/Paris-2006-2022/

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