A Perfect Bowl of Phở, winner of the U of T Drama Festival’s Best Production Award, staged a remount last Saturday at Victoria College’s Cat’s Eye Pub. The musical comedy tells the story of Nam, a young first generation Vietnamese-Canadian, and focuses on phở, a Vietnamese noodle soup.
In the show, phở is the vehicle through which a story of colonialism, cultural differences, and the struggles of immigrant families is told.
The production’s main character also happens to be a version of the writer himself, Nam Nguyen.
“Something I didn’t know I wanted to talk about was being an Asian-Canadian,” Nguyen said. He thought that he could attempt to incorporate Vietnamese history into the story.
“I found a convenient way to do that when I read this article online, it was called ‘The History of Phở’… it was a lot of stuff that I already knew… how phở was invented under French colonialism, but then it just had a bunch of historical tidbits in it. It was just an engaging enough piece that I found this was something that you could stage and people, probably they won’t fall asleep,” he said.
Nguyen explained that his thought process behind writing himself into A Perfect Bowl of Phở was that it was “definitely very much from my perspective and my experiences growing up as a Vietnamese-Canadian kid. It would be somewhat dishonest to portray my experience as everyone’s, so I decided to be entirely straight and upfront about it.”
As a musical, Phở stood out at the Drama Festival. It was the only show to feature an original score, including a rap song titled “Medium Phở,” which described a 15-year-old Nguyen on a date during which he takes his partner to a phở restaurant. Hilarity ensues.
A Perfect Bowl of Phở received universal praise at the Drama Festival and won the President’s Award for Best Production.
“The thing I like about [winning Best Production] is that it is a ‘Best Production’ award, it’s not just like ‘Nam, you were great,’ but it really, I think, recognizes everyone for their accomplishments. Just like, altogether we may not have had the best script, or the best direction, or the best acting, but… altogether we were the best product,” he said.
In a media and cultural landscape that often leaves Asian-Canadians out of the picture, Nguyen believes it is important to tell stories that are especially relevant today, such as how phở came to Canada. In telling that story, he had to explore refugee crises and the experience of immigrant parents. “The importance is in all things that come along with [phở],” he said, “and I don’t think that’s ever going to stop being relevant.”