‘My Home on the Moon’ fuses traditional culture and technology of the future | Theater

The set of San Francisco Playhouse’s production of “My Home on the Moon” captures audience members from the moment they take their seats. A steaming pot simmers on a stovetop in the middle of a green-tiled kitchen. The walls are adorned with pictures of mountainous landscapes and recipes while the aroma of pho wafts through the air, transporting viewers out of the theater and into their favorite Vietnamese establishment.

Running from Jan. 25 to Feb. 24, “My Home on the Moon” follows Lan — owner of Vietnamese restaurant Pho Lan — and her chef Mai as they deal with the gentrification of their area and the resulting lack of customers. Struggling to keep the restaurant afloat, Lan applies for a small business grant in hopes of keeping her and her late sister’s dream alive. Upon receiving the grant from Novus Corp, mysterious consultant Vera arrives to turn the business around, ultimately blurring the line between the metaverse and reality. Exploring themes of finding hope in tragedy, artificial intelligence, displacement and loss, “My Home on the Moon” tells a moving tale of keeping culture alive.

The scenic design by Tanya Orellana is a visually breathtaking masterpiece. The primary set mimics a restaurant — so realistic it could have been taken right from the streets of San Francisco. Utilizing minute details such as colored tassels tied to a fan and a beaded curtain in place of a door, the set oozes familiarity as it radiates an authentic Asian restaurant feel. The space is purposely cluttered with various bottles, plants and utensils, appearing lived-in and making the whole set feel even more lifelike.

Diving into topics like AI and the metaverse, technology plays a large role in the visuals. Screens surround the set and are built into the ceiling panels of the restaurant, allowing graphics to seamlessly integrate into the production beyond the confines of the stage.

Every actor masterfully leans into their role with bold choices that lead to moments of drama and hilarity. Sharon Omi (Lan) plays into her character’s affable, optimistic nature with ease. Her warmth was comically contrasted with the grumpy and oftentimes intransigent Mai (played by Jenny Nguyen Nelson). The pair’s dynamic shines brightest in scenes that include Rinabeth Apostol (Vera), who plays her role with a contrastingly robotic, nonetheless lively tone. With characters so distinct, the three form an entertaining rapport, impressing the audience with their captivating chemistry. 

Will Dao (Beau, Food Critic, Lion Dancer, Chef 2) and Erin Mei-Ling Stuart (Gigi, Camera Person, Lion Dancer, Chef 1) play multiple parts and bring undeniable life to each character. Dao takes on a larger-than-life personality as the boisterous and eccentric Food Critic, but then effortlessly switches to a caring, concerned friend when playing Beau. Stuart holds the command of a powerful CEO — a level of confidence shown in her unwavering assuredness in Novus Corp’s success in their AI endeavors — but also seamlessly portrays the role of a mindless follower when playing the Food Critic’s Camera Person. Each actor embodies their role with such clarity that it is easy to forget each part was played by the same person. 

One of the most endearing aspects of the show was its interactivity. Audience members are customers when Lan and Mai work in the restaurant. Later, they are corporate presentation viewers as Gigi conducts a data testing debrief outlining her technological success. Food is cooked live on stage, making the restaurant feel active and creating an olfactory experience for the audience that transports them from a theater into Pho Lan. Watching the actors consume real food — as opposed to using props — keeps the illusion alive, turning the world on stage into a reality. 

“My Home on the Moon” fuses the unlikely pairing of pho and AI to tell a beautiful story that raises questions about the impacts of technology and AI on the lives of working-class families. No matter how hungry viewers are when they enter, this show is bound to leave audiences chanting the catchy slogan “Are you hungry? Yes, chef!” by the curtain call.

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