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?
About the author
Nam Nguyen is a Toronto-based playwright and lyricist of Vietnamese descent. His publisher forced him to write this bio less than a month after he graduated from the University of Toronto, at a time when his only work of note was this one. Nam was named one of NOW Magazine’s Breakthrough Stage Artists of 2019 following the premiere presentation of A Perfect Bowl of Pho by fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company. His plays have been performed in theatres all across the TTC streetcar network.
Excerpt: A Perfect Bowl of Pho (by (author) Nam Nguyen)
(The beginnings of a dope beat play in the background. TEACHER enters with a classroom full of students, ready to be victimized by JEN.)
Alright, class, remember that tomorrow is World Cultures Day, so I hope you’re all ready to set up your country’s booths with your yummy, yummy foods!
(The students cheer. JEN emerges from them, screaming.)
Jen? Jen, I – Jen! I appreciate your enthusiasm, but –
Brap brap brap brap!
(The dope beat goes ham. JEN raps with terrifying aggression; the classroom is destroyed in the process.)
YO, THERE’S A SHARK IN THE WATER, OUGHTTA GET OUTTA THE POOL
VIET DAUGHTER ‘BOUTTA BRING THE HOTTEST STAND TO THE SCHOOL
I TELL YA, OTHER BITCHES’ BOOTHS HAD BEST PREPARE FOR A BEATING
BECAUSE IT AIN’T WORLD CULTURES DAY UNTIL SOMEBODY IS BLEEDING
BEST PREPARE FOR MEAT-EATING, IT DON’T BEAR NO REPEATING
I’M SPEEDING DOWN THE LIST OF REASONS WHY MY FEAST IS LEADING
JEN / ENSEMBLE
GOT SOME CHICKEN / WHAT!
JEN / ENSEMBLE
PORK / WHAT!
AND YOU KNOW THAT I’M BEEFING
AND ‘EM SPRING ROLLS READY
WITH A BIT OF REHEATING
PICKLED VEGGIES ON THE SIDE, AND MILKY COFFEE ON THE ICE
TRY SOME RICE, FRIED OR WHITE AT NO ADDITIONAL PRICE
NOT ONLY THAT, GOT A BURNER STOVE AND CANS OF GAS
SO YOU CAN SLURP A BOWL OF PHO WHEN I’M THROUGH KICKING YO ASS
HO! SO, YOU MIGHT AS WELL NOT SHOW
LEAVE YOUR DUMBASS PIEROGIES AT HOME
I DUNNO HOW THE FUCK YOU BURNED NACHOS
BUT YOU DID IT, NOW YOU’RE FINISHED ‘CAUSE THE DISHES I MADE ON MY OWN
With my mom's help.
She did the cooking.
I rolled the spring rolls.
VIETNAM PIMPIN’, YO, STOP YO BITCHIN’
I’M DISHING OUT THE DISHES AND YOU’RE RIPE FOR THE PICKIN’
WE ARE READY STEADY GO, TO GO INTERNATIONAL
AND WE’RE NEVER GOING SLOW, WE’RE VIETNAM PIMPIN’
(Jump to after school. JEN’S MOM is driving JEN home.)
So tell me how you got detention.
Ms. Jones says I “destroyed” “the classroom” “with enthusiasm.” And “made gratuitous use of the B-word.”
But it’s okay! She let me keep my booth for World Cultures Day! And tomorrow, we’ll see who’s giving who detention.
That’s not how that works.
Did you start the chả giò?
(Projection: “in case you didn’t know: chả giò; a Vietnamese fried spring roll, usually pork”)
(sigh) Yes, I finished them this morning.
Finished? But that means they won’t be fresh tomorrow. They’ll be in the fridge all night.
Whatever. It’s fine. What about the pickled vegetables?
You want those too? Honey, that’s gonna take a whole day at least.
Why didn’t you start earlier?!
I have work, Jenny!
At least tell me I’ll have the pho.
(Projection: “in case you didn’t know: phở; a Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, rice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat, primarily made with either beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà)”)
Of course! (gestures to grocery bag beside driver’s seat) I just came from the supermarket.
(JEN pulls a bag of broth powder from the bag.)
... instant... broth powder? I told everyone I was going to have authentic, slave-away-over-a-stove-for-eight-hours broth!
It tastes the same.
No it doesn’t! You ruin everything, mom!
(JEN throws a tantrum. JEN’S MOM tries to calm her down.)
Jen! Jennifer! I think you’re taking World Cultures Day a little too seriously. What do you even get from it?
The satisfaction of crushing my enemies. And a twenty-dollar gift card to McDonald’s.
Jenny. I’ll take you to McDonald’s myself if that’s what you really want.
But that’s not it. The other kids make fun of me at lunchtime. They see me with leftover noodles, and they all have... Lunchables.
(Projection: “in case you didn’t know: Lunchables; how your parents tell you that they don’t love you”)
I just wanted to show them that our food is the best.
“Hilariously and exhaustingly meta-theatrical… Nguyen’s is a name to watch.”
Karen Fricker, Toronto Star
“A fresh new musical that pulses with life, anarchic energy and invention.”
Glenn Sumi, NOW Magazine