My Home on the Moon
SF Playhouse Dramedy About Soup and Artificial Intelligence
By: Victor Cordell - Feb 06, 2024
Innovation has shaped the experience of humanity. From hand tools to machines to computers, implements have reduced our burdens and determined how we go about our work and play.
Otherwise, from the dawn of humankind, dreams have reflected perceptions of a different world lived within – sometimes grand in our wakeful imagination, sometimes fearsome in our sleep. But more recently, the innovations of virtual reality and artificial intelligence enhance perceptions and transport us to new and different realizations. Playwright Minna Lee’s world premiere dramedy “My Home on the Moon” explores such an alternate reality, and San Francisco Playhouse delivers a richly rewarding production.
Lan is a middle-aged Vietnamese-American woman who owns a café, Pho Lan, that offers only one item, the eponymous, famed noodle and meat soup from the country of her birth. Young Mai, a dropout from a gourmet cooking academy, produces Lan’s recipe.
Though the soup is highly regarded, the café has fallen on hard times as the neighborhood gentrifies; other shops are closed to be replaced by construction for high rises; and the old customers move on. Pho Lan faces closure when a seeming white knight comes along. Lan learns that the shop has “won a grant” from the mysterious Novus Corporation. Its representative, the marketing-savvy and charming but herky-jerky Vera organizes a new marketing campaign that Novus will sponsor. It begins with a stylish update of the downmarket noodle shop that includes a lush Southeast Asian jungle. But the promotions also include incongruous advertising with a vulgar couple engaging in sexualized acts, not something usually associated with a pho cafe.
The marketing plan works! Pho Lan can’t keep up with demand, and even adds another popular menu item, bán xèo, a Vietnamese crepe.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Without giving away too much, let’s say that we see the clash between fantasy and reality. And since the fantasy experience is superior, it begs the question why we would ever want to come back to reality. Although the script has logic holes, it could not be more timely. It provokes thoughts about how we confront and assess the limitless potential and onslaught of falsehoods, security risks, displacement, and more that arise from artificial intelligence.
Although the issues surfaced are serious, the overall tone is light. The action occurs at the time of Tet with lion dances highlighted. Separately, Lan and Vera perform humorous song and dance numbers demonstrating both Eastern and Western footwork. Meanwhile, Vera’s personality is quirky altogether, while Will Dao’s food critic is outlandishly hyper and funny.
The cast is led by three captivating and contrasting female leads. Sharon Omi is Lan, a smiling, sympathetic character who holds to tradition and hope. This kind older woman treats Mai as a daughter. As Mai, Jenny Nguyen Nelson is more grounded and concerned about the influx of unpaid bills that could cause the shop to close. Vera becomes the catalyst for change, and an enthusiastic Rinabeth Apostol cooks up the marketing plan but has much to learn herself, much of which she will gain from a personal relationship with Mai. Will Dao and Erin Mei-Ling Stuart give solid performances in multiple supporting roles.
Another big star is the production design led by Director Mei Ann Teo. With the utilization of its revolving platform, SF Playhouse sets the Bay Area standard for multi-set staging, and Tanya Orellana’s clever use of the space complemented by Vincent Chau’s props results in a remarkable design. Three essential lighting-related treatments complete the overall appearance. Lighting Director Michael Oesch employs several lighting features including color changes to produce the look. Jacqueline Scott, the specialty properties designer, implements the long snake-like light noodles. Finally, Hao Bai’s inward swooping isobar projections create the appropriate symbolic sense of tumbling down the rabbit hole.
“My Home on the Moon,” a world premiere written by Minna Lee, is produced by San Francisco Playhouse and plays on its stage at 450 Post Street, San Francisco, CA through February 24, 2024.