I received this book from Playwrights Canada Press in exchange for an honest review.
“Pickle veggies on the side, milky coffee on the ice
Your pick of rice, friend or white, at no additional price
Not only that, I got a burner stove and cans of gas
So you can slurp a bowl of pho when I’m through kicking yo ass,” (Nguyen, Act 1, Scene 2, 12).
Nam is a Vietnamese-Canadian university student who needs to write a musical, but has procrastinated to an impressive extent to avoid doing it. He knows he wants it to be about food and diaspora, with great focus on the world-favourite pho. As Nam goes about making his musical we get a look at the history of pho, an excitable and passionate child eager to show her classmates what true Vietnamese cuisine is, an awkward first date with yearning for more pho of course, what else could they be yearning for? And even the hipster white-washing of Asian food. Nam has a lot he wants to cover in his show, but what exactly is the point of it all?
God, this play was hilarious! It’s easy to laugh at jokes when you’re watching a play or musical being performed and it’s easy to miss those same jokes when they’re on the page, but Nam’s play had me laughing out loud while I was reading. My favourite parts were probably Jenny’s raps, Nam and Amy’s first date (I WANTED MEDIUM PHO), and the hipster-white-pho scene at “soup.” (emphasis on the “.”). But there are serious moments too, and A Perfect Bowl of Pho does an excellent job of balancing these moments as well as talking about the history of pho without it becoming dull. Nguyen makes sure that the serious moments don’t detract from the humour of the play, and the humour doesn’t downplay the serious moments.
I also love how meta it is, how the playwright and his friend have played themselves in productions and loved that the footnotes that give more insight into why certain things happen in the script, what inspired certain lines, and even some tips on handling such a large cast size. The songs were fun to read and I’d love to hear them for myself, fingers crossed a cast album or even some snippets are posted somewhere online at some point.
But as playwright David Yee questions in his humourous introduction and later as the fictionalized conglomerate of VIP (but mainly Yee, obviously), and fictional/maybe real Nam also question, what is the point of the play? Is it diaspora through the lens of pho? Is it the continuous colonization and white-washing of Asian culture, including their food? Or is this really just a show about pho? What does it mean?
You’ll have to read it for yourself, or keep your eyes peeled for this to hit Fringe or other stages (I know I will be!). A Perfect Bowl of Pho is a funny, moving, and informative piece of theatre and I can’t wait to see it grace some stages!
Publication: November 23 2021
Publisher: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 144 pages (Paperback)
Source: Playwrights Canada Press (Thank you!!!)
Genre: Play, Musical, Metafiction, Comedy
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤⛤
Nam, a procrastination-prone Vietnamese Canadian university student, sets out with the vague ambition to write a musical about his diaspora as embodied by food, particularly the world-famous noodle soup pho. What follows is pure meta musical, genre-bending through thousands of years of history, featuring rapping ancient kings, communist spies, dancing sharks and refugees, and awkward first dates in suburbia. However, Nam eventually finds himself caught between his different characters as each argues what pho (the food and the show) truly represents, and he struggles to find an answer that will satisfy everyone–in the end, isn’t this just a bunch of silly soup songs?