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.
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!
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.
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!