Minna Lee’s Magical Tale Explores Tradition & Tech Fantasy
by Hamilton Nguyen
Minna Lee’s “My Home on The Moon” masterfully weaves magic and AI into the tale of a small Vietnamese restaurant facing domination by huge Novus Corp, which is building a skyscraper next door. Lee delivers comedy with sexy TikTok commercials and dire dystopian nightmares.
In the TikTok commercial, two scantily dressed chefs gyrate on kitchen counters. Dancing to trance music, they caress each other with soup ladles. It’s a dream-scene that appeals with its fantasy and silliness.
Tanya Orellana’s cozy Pho Lan restaurant sports a glass door with a neon lit “PHO” sign. The sounds of creaky gas stoves and clanking metal pots make my mouth water for a warm bowl of pho.
Endearing, hip, and simply dressed, Lan (Sharon Omi), the immigrant restaurant owner, prays to her ancestors. Lan is willing to adapt to US ways, perhaps too eagerly. Lan knows about NFTs, sprinkles MSG liberally, and wonders about LGBT.
Crashing through the beaded curtain, Lan’s chef Mai (engaging Jenny Nguyen Nelson) works hard in the big onstage kitchen. She values traditional Vietnamese cooking over innovation. Nelson captures the delicate balance between old and new.
Dressed in an elegant ivory suit and black turtleneck, wide-eyed business consultant Vera (magnificent Rinabeth Apostol) claims she can save Lan’s failing restaurant. She offers to solve Lan’s money problems. Steve-Jobs like Vera represents Novus Corp—offering them a big upgrade. What’s the catch?
Vera’s awkward, unsolicited interjections of facts eerily resemble Chat GPT or Google Bard. Conversations get weirder when we notice her finicky fingers and strange reactions. But I would probably spaz out too if I tasted Mai’s strawberry and salmon gỏi cuốn.
Will Dao plays Beau, a brazen on-camera food critic who hogs the spotlight. Electrifying Dao sports a flashy, suede blazer with a stuffed bear pocket square. His seductive antics speak even louder than his outfit. Who sent him?
Clad in black leather with a dapper cane, Gigi (persuasive Erin Mei-Ling Stuart) tries to con us about Novus Corps’ priorities. They value profits over the public good. Playwright Lee is warning us about the allure of new tech, using fantasy scenes in the Vietnam jungle and on the moon to deliver the message. Lee uses puns like “Pho-Tai-astic!” and “Shut the Phok Up!” Not sure how these all fit in, but they were welcome surprises.
With swirling, impressive projections that cover the stage, we are engulfed in a Vietnam War memory, a Tet celebration (coming up Feb 10), and flying, glowing vermicelli with a voice. The Noodle speaks!
“My Home on The Moon ” puts AI on trial with rip-roaring comedy and magical realism. Novus Corp threatens tradition, food, and culture. Will it destroy us like Terminator’s SkyNet or bless us like StarTrek’s Data?
I wonder if this is how people felt during the early 1900s when stagecoach drivers started to feel the power of cars. See “My Home on the Moon’ to laugh and to ponder our tech-crazed future! It’s a New Year’s party, complete with dancing dragons.
“My Home On The Moon” by Minna Lee, directed by Mei Ann Teo, scenic design by Tanya Orellana, costume design by Kathleen Qiu, lighting design by Michael Oesch, at San Francisco Playhouse. Info: sfplayhouse.org – to February 24, 2024.
Cast: Rinabeth Apostol, Will Dao, Jenny Nguyen Nelson, Sharon Omi, Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, and Ann Warque.
Banner photo: Mai (Jenny Nguyen Nelson), Vera (Rinabeth Apostol), and Lan (Sharon Omi) celebrate new year. Photos: Jessica Palopoli