“My Home on the Moon,” written by Minna Lee and superbly directed by Mei Ann Teo at SF Playhouse, creatively spotlights the invasion of Corporate Greed on cultural identity. The talents of Lee and Teo deliver a poignant portrayal of a Vietnamese pho restaurant struggling to save their culture from gentrification.
The corporation’s star worker is AI. We feel the AI presence as it creeps into all aspects of our lives, similar to insidious gentrification that creeps into neighborhoods swallowing the cultural identity one property at a time.
At the heart of this play is ever-hopeful, conservative Lan, played by Sharon Omi, and also her resourceful, savvy co-worker, Mai, portrayed by the versatile Jenny Nguyen Nelson. Together, they navigate the challenges of a dwindling business, fearing the gentrification encroachment that threatens not only their restaurant, but also their cherished Vietnamese cooking recipes. Omi embodies the heart and soul of Lan, and Nelson adroitly shifts through the many moods of Mai.
Lan, grappling with the profound loss of her neighbors, finds solace in connecting with the spirits of her ancient Vietnamese ancestors through the art of cooking. Dishes like bánh xèo, chả giò, and pho noodles transcend whereby one can “Taste memories and feelings … and secrets.”
Novus Corp conducts a daring experiment, blending future AI Androids with human-like qualities, as envisioned by Lee in a sci-fi exploration. Suspend disbelief as the surreal clashes with reality, leaving you wondering if you lost the bridge in-between them.
From the celestial realm emerges Vera, portrayed by Rinabeth Apostol, a mysterious Android-like consultant who transforms reality with a snap. She controls media platforms akin to present-day AIs, brought to life with comedic brilliance by Apostol.
When Vera takes control of the restaurant, the play evolves into a diverse, media-filled journey featuring amusing commercials, a discerning food critic, halarious TIK-TOK burlesque dance, impeccably portrayed by Will Dao, Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, and Wallace Yan.
Lan and Mai’s business flourishes, with Lan joyfully cooking and thanking ancestral spirits, while Mai creates new recipes. She teaches Vera the art of cooking an egg. Vera plays with words, “Puns elevated status of wit.” Vera and Mai’s relationship blooms.
(Vera) Rinabeth Apostol (Mai) Jenny Nguyen Nelson Photos: Jessica Palopoli/ SF Playhouse
Yet, an unexpected turn awaits Lan and Mai, forcing life-altering decisions. Even Vera has unanswered questions for CEOGigi, played by demanding Erin Mei-Ling Stuart. Will Lan and Mai stay in their restructured restaurant and keep their cultural identity, or…
The ending is a shocker.
Kudos to Teo’s direction and the Creative Team. They skillfully guide the audience through impressive visual and auditory realities, a show unto themselves.
Special mention to Set Designer Tanya Orellana for meticulously detailed and stunning sets. The three-sided turn-style stage authentically depicts a decorated Pho restaurant, complete with the aroma of real Vietnamese food, a steaming pot, and characters enjoying freshly cooked meals. The back exit is adorned with Vietnamese jackfruit trees, immersing the audience in the Vietnamese world.
Beau (Will Dao) Lan (SharonOmi) Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson) Camera Person (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart)
Hao Bai’s vibrant projection designs add to Vera’s magic, offering a rare sensory experience with light and color changes. Howard Ho’s sounds and music set the atmosphere, effortlessly transitioning between dance music, suspense, and memories. Costume Designer Kathleen Qiu impresses with beautiful period costumes and captivating lion dancers.
Lee’s “My Home on the Moon” prompts reflections on AI, what is reality, and how can we keep our cultural identity in a changing world controlled by corporations. A must see.
“My Home on the Moon” written by Minna Lee, directed by Mei Ann Teo, at San Francisco Playhouse, San Francisco, CA, info: https://www.sfplayhouse.org/ to February 24
Cast: Rinabeth Apostol, Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, Will Dao, Jenny Nguyen Nelson, Sharon Omi, Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, Wallace Yan