HomeVietnamese AmericanNew SF play explores the realm of AI, gentrification, and Pho

New SF play explores the realm of AI, gentrification, and Pho

In the age of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, many questions about what is “real” surfaced, a Hmong Vietnamese American playwright searches for answers in the new play My Home on the Moon.

Now making its debut at the San Francisco Playhouse, Minna Lee’s play not only tackles problems of contemporary society, but also serves pho onstage.

“It’s a sci-fi adventure comedy about a Vietnamese restaurant that is struggling against gentrification,” Lee said, who uses gender-neutral pronouns. One day, however, a mysterious consultant makes an offer that restaurant owner, Mai, cannot refuse. Mai accepts the offer that will bring her shop back to its glory days, but it comes with a catch. A catch that sends the owner down the metaverse rabbit hole. “I’ve been pitching it as a pho restaurant in the Matrix,” Lee continued.

Lee said “I got the idea for the play originally in a roller rink in Seattle, where I grew up,” The Mercury News reported. This roller rink bore witness to a lot of gentrification, similar to Mai’s Pho restaurant. They began to wonder how a roller rink could survive the persisting gentrification in their hometown. With the same music and the same crowd more questions formed “What if this was a simulation? What if it was already gone, and the best way that people could get civilians to get used to change was putting them in a simulation?” And My Home on the Moon was born.”

The play was initially centered around a virtual roller rink, then a roller diner, and finally a pho restaurant.

Just like Lee’s Seattle roller rink, this restaurant watches gentrification take over their neighborhood. When doom appears on the restaurant’s doorstep, a mysterious consultant makes an offer. An offer that would save the shop, but also send the owner Mai down an AI rabbit hole.

Mei Ann Teo, a queer immigrant from Singapore, is the director of the play. Teo said “I could tell both the striking ambition of grappling with these themes and the comedic delight, coupled with no hesitation in looking at darkness in the face.”

When Teo, who uses gender neutral-pronouns, read the first drafts they knew that they were on board.

The play toying with the nature of reality, Teo knew “It needs to feel real.” The restaurant needed to feel like an actual restaurant. The solution: serving pho onstage.

SF Chef, Rob Lam taught the cast of My Home on the Moon the art of pho.

Owner of Lily located in SF’s Richmond District, Lam takes pho very seriously. He took the cast step-by-step to create a real feel on stage. Lam said “If you’re not doing this in your play, then you’re not making pho,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

My Home on the Moon will run at SF Playhouse until February 24th.

Lee hopes that their play will explore the scary realm of AI blending together the harsh realities of today with a strong sense of culture.

“It’s a conversation that’s happening, and I think it’s here to stay,” Lee said. “It’s a conversation we all need to have about just how to use AI and how it exists in our lives.”

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