Theater Review: MY HOME ON THE MOON (San Francisco Playhouse)

Post image for Theater Review: MY HOME ON THE MOON (San Francisco Playhouse)

by Chuck Louden on February 9, 2024

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Pho (pronounced in 2 sounds, sliding up at the end: fo/ə, like your saying “fur” with a strong New York accent) is a Vietnamese soup dish consisting of broth, rice noodles, protein (usually beef, sometimes chicken) and herbs (depending on the chef, it can include spices such as ginger, star anise, coriander, cardamom, anise, clove, and cinnamon). Pho is the national dish of Vietnam and a beloved comfort food that evokes nostalgia for many Vietnamese people. Depending on the family style or the restaurant, there are many takes on pho.

Lan (Sharon Omi) and Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson)
Lan (Sharon Omi) and Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson) with consultant Vera (Rinabeth Apostol)
Vera (Rinabeth Apostol) discusses the restaurant with Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson)

Now comes San Francisco Playhouse‘s World Premiere of My Home on the Moon by Hmong-Vietnamese-American playwright Minna Lee. As with pho, it is stocked with many tasty ingredients (an examination of Vietnamese ancestry, spirituality, sci-fi, Matrix theory, and queer romance) but instead of feeling satiated, you may leave full of more questions than answers. But that seems typical as we watch a fascinating new generation of Asian playwrights (Mike LewQui NguyenLauren YeeDipika GuhaChristopher Chen ) who write about the quest for identity as it pertains to traditional upbringing, here or abroad, and current frustrations as modern Asians in America, often addressing race within a meta, madcap, or farcical context.

Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson) and Lan (Sharon Omi) work in the kitchen
Consultant Vera (Rinabeth Apostol) learns about cooking from Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson)
Lan (Sharon Omi) worries for the restaurant's future

Set in the present, we are in a dying Vietnamese restaurant, a victim to the neighborhood’s slow decimation via gentrification. The owner Mai (Jenny Nguyen) and chef Lan (Sharon Omi) are despondent over the seemingly inevitable closing of their once-popular restaurant that features unique Vietnamese dishes. Out of the blue, a gift basket is dropped off; it’s filled with food and a note from a mysterious telecom company wanting to give a corporate grant to revitalize the restaurant. An attractive, well-put-together woman in a white suit, perfect hair and makeup suddenly appears to offer the ladies what seems to be the deal of a lifetime. Vera (a very funny Rinabeth Apostle) is a consultant from the corporation and envisions taking the noodle shop to new heights and prosperity.

A food critic (Will Dao) samples cuisine, watched by Lan (Sharon Omi),
Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson) and a camera person (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart)
Lan (Sharon Omi) reminisces about her childhood with a giant noodle on the moon
(background puppeteer Erin Mei-Ling Stuart)
Vera (Rinabeth Apostol) is visited by CEO Gigi (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart)

Instantly everything shifts gears and we see the restaurant filled with bright light in shiny technicolor (amazingly, food is cooked live on stage). It seems that everyone has been fast-forwarded to a time where everything is bigger and brighter than ever. Vera in all her glory is encouraging Mai and Lan to let go and embrace the future. But everything is not really as it seems. This big new vision of the restaurant is all generated by Artificial Intelligence. It appears that not only is Vera too good to be true, she is in fact not real. She’s a humanoid or computer-generated bot. Director Mei Ann Teo has the drama slowly unfold as in an episode of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror. The ensemble is stupendous, playing their roles to the hilt. Dexterously switching roles are Will Dao (Beau, a restaurant employee; a food critic; a hilarious TikTok dancer, etc.) and Erin Mei-Ling Stuart (a coding genius and CEO, and other characters).

CEO Gigi (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart) leads an investor's report protested by Beau (Will Dao)
Beau (Will Dao) and Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson)
Lan (Sharon Omi) celebrates the new year with lion dancers
(left, Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, right, Will Dao)

The fast-changing metaverse is brought to life by Michael Oesch’s sumptuous lighting design, Hao Bai’s projection design, and Tanya Orellana’s fantastic three-sided rotating set as the restaurant shifts to the moon and a Vietnamese forest. Mai is fascinated with the journey, but cynical Lan — delighted at first — now has alarm bells going off. The existential dilemma of what is real versus what is AI seemingly has no clear answers. How will it end? Can we escape? The show turns into both a futuristic thriller and a cautionary tale. But even with a triumphant production, Ms. Lee’s pho-like script hasn’t yet melded, leaving me to wonder what I just ate.

A food critic (Will Dao) enters the restaurant
Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson), Vera (Rinabeth Apostol), and Lan (Sharon Omi)
Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson) and Vera (Rinabeth Apostol)

photos by Jessica Palopoli / San Francisco Playhouse

My Home on the Moon
San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street in San Francisco
Tues-Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on January 13, 2024
for tickets ($15-$125), call 415.677.9596 or visit SF Playhouse

Leave a Comment