Today's e-Edition
Get Morning Report and other email newsletters

Get Morning Report and other email newsletters
Today's e-Edition
Trending:
One of the key ingredients that goes into any recipe is history: personal history, family history, cultural history and geopolitical history. Clashes of cultures, trade and colonization loom somewhere in the background of the ingredients that go into a dish.
Playwright Dustin H. Chinn pulls that background into center stage in “Colonialism Is Terrible, but Pho Is Delicious,” his new play now premiering at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company.
It’s a play in three scenes, each set in a different era. In 1889 Vietnam (then French Indochina), a superb local chef is urged to swallow her pride and cook French food for a French aristocrat with no interest in sampling the local cuisine. In 1999 Ho Chi Minh City, two American travelers nervously get their first taste of the Vietnamese noodle soup pho from the best roadside stall in town. And in present-day Brooklyn, an arrogant white American chef who insists on dictating how diners eat his pho sparks a standoff about cultural appropriation.
It’s a funny, thought-provoking and well-crafted play deftly directed by Oánh Nguyen, artistic director of Anaheim’s Chance Theatre. Its Aurora production is the first in a rolling world premiere that will go to the Chance and to Oregon Contemporary Theatre next year, each production directed by Nguyen.
Mikiko Uesugi’s versatile set nicely conveys very different settings and eras with just a few changes, and Maggie Whitaker’s costumes give a great sense of both period and class. Stebbins’ elegant dress bedecked with ruffles in the first scene tells a whole story on its own. James Ard’s sound design adds tension with ominous music underscoring certain moments.
Developed in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s 2017 The Ground Floor summer residency and Playwrights Foundation’s 2018 Bay Area Playwrights Festival, the play was initially inspired by a couple of stories about “whitesplaining” Asian food that went viral in 2016, most notably a Bon Appetit post in which a white chef advised how people “should” eat pho.
Chinn’s vignettes paint a much larger and more nuanced picture viewed obliquely from a few different angles, all centered in one way or another around soup.
The same four actors compellingly and comically embody different roles in each section. Nicole Tung plays two acerbic cooks unimpressed by outsiders and a confident customer, each unafraid to speak her mind. Anthony Doan is a cringing steward, a glad-handing tourism official and a pretentious restaurant manager.
Elissa Beth Stebbins is a snobbish aristocrat ceaselessly fanning herself in the heat, an ingratiating tourist speaking broken Vietnamese and a well-intentioned noodle blogger. Joseph Patrick O’Malley plays a smoothly confident French chef, a traveler amusingly stumbling to make himself understood, and a pompous and conceited restaurant chef.
When people are speaking Vietnamese we hear standard American English, while foreigners speak in hilariously exaggerated French or cowboy accents.
Although the characters are different in every era, there are certain commonalities. Tung is always a sardonic, formidable badass, and Doan always a bit of a suck-up and sellout.
At the same time, they’re more complicated than simple types. O’Malley and Tung’s Victorian-era cooks find common ground over the craft and practicalities of food preparation, and in the present day Tung and Stebbins’ characters have a palpably close friendship unshaken by a whole lot of teasing and some hard truths.
As the title suggests, Chinn raises important issues while resisting easy answers in potent and often hilarious ways. Like any well-crafted dish, the play offers a whole lot to savor.
Contact Sam Hurwitt at shurwitt@gmail.com, and follow him at Twitter.com/shurwitt.
By Dustin Chinn, presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Through: Dec. 4
Where: Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley (also streaming Nov. 29- Dec. 4)
Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $20-$75; 510-843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org
We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.
Get Morning Report and other email newsletters
Copyright © 2022 MediaNews Group

source

Shop Sephari