The satiric comedy provides insight into historical colonialism conflicts and the traditional Vietnamese dish, phở. The story begins in 1880s French Indochina, where a willful Vietnamese cook experiences an aristocratic French settler’s kitchen. From there, American tourists first taste the local cuisine in 1999 Vietnam. And finally, the present day brings a steaming perspective centered on culture, ownership and authenticity in gentrifying Brooklyn.
Playwright Dustin H. Chinn found inspiration for Colonialism Is Terrible, But Phở Is Delicious through two viral incidents, including a how-to video for Bon Appetit by Chef Tyler Akin, “PSA: This is How You Should Be Eating Pho” and a suggestion on how you could improve bibimbap using a Bundt pan from Dan Pashman of The Sporkful. “I just thought, well, that’s such an interesting mindset to approach a culinary tradition,” Chinn says. “I just kind of walked backwards from there thinking about food and authorship in general.”
Chinn has also written Snowflakes, Or Rare White People; I Am Nakamura; Portrait Of A Killer and Let’s Ninja Science Ranger Team Get! His work grows out of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, the largest collective of Asian American playwrights in history.
Craig Willis, producing artistic director for OCT, first heard an early draft of the play at the 2018 Bay Area Playwrights Festival. “I was immediately struck by the play and reached out to Dustin afterward asking for the script,” Willis writes in an email. “Were it not for the pandemic I would have tried to program the play sooner.”
Later, he found out his long-time acquaintance Oánh Nguyễn also had similar regard for the play when the artistic director for Aurora Theatre Company introduced Nguyễn to Chinn. In 2021, they did a reading of Colonialism Is Terrible, But Phở Is Delicious over Zoom. After that, the idea of a three-part rolling world premiere for the play developed. OCT became the third location in the series, following productions at Aurora Theatre in Berkeley, California, and Chance Theater in Anaheim.
“It’s been such a special experience, right to be able to work with a playwright on three productions,” Nguyễn says. “I think it’s helping him really solidify his play, and as a director to be held to be part of that process, has been just so much fun. I mean, that’s the beauty of a rolling world premiere”
Colonialism Is Terrible, But Phở Is Delicious features a cast of four, including OCT alum Jerilyn Armstrong (Alabaster, The Big Meal), Anthony Đoàn, Alexander D. Foufos and Cat Limket, each debuting at OCT.
The production team includes costume designer Erin Wills; lighting designer, Ashley Christensen; scenic designer, Jeffrey Cook; sound designer, James Ard; culinary consultant, Clark Barlowe; dramaturg, Natalia Dương; dialect coach, Tricia Rodley; assistant director, Shinshin Tsai; assistant stage manager/prop designer, Laura Tuffli and stage manager, Riley Allen.
Oregon Contemporary Theatre presents Name Your Own Price preview performances of Colonialism Is Terrible, But Phở Is Delicious May 17 and 18 at 7:30 pm at 194 W. Broadway. The world premiere production runs May 19 through June 4. For more information visit OCTheatre.org or call 541-465-1506.