The protagonist in Dinner and Cake is a very familiar type of Washingtonian: a young and ambitious overachiever, newly arrived and ready to make her mark.
What distinguishes the character, and by extension this play, is the fact that Mỹlinh is a Vietnamese-American who grew up in the U.S., in a family of refugees from the Vietnam War.
It is her ability to speak both English and Vietnamese fluently as well as her experience in navigating the two cultures that set the stage for all that transpires.
The setting for this new work from theater artist Tuyết Thị Phạm is a meeting over food between two older couples, one a native English-speaking American duo, the other a pair visiting from their home in Vietnam.
Together, the four represent the in-law family of two friends, who have asked Mỹlinh to translate in their absence on the eve of their one-year wedding anniversary.
What is anticipated to be a simple exchange becomes explodes, as the couples clash over dinner, forcing the translator, as Phạm puts it in a press release, “[to] navigate the sometimes comic, sometimes awkward tension, while deflecting and defusing complicated questions about the cultural, national, and social politics between the two countries that make up [the character’s] own unique identity.”
Everyman Theatre kicks off its current season with a world-premiere production of the 90-minute play, billed as a “wry look at what gets lost in translation — or purposely left out — when you try to merge families and cultures.”
“It’s thrilling to provide a space for new voices like Tuyết’s,” says Vincent Lancisi, the Baltimore company’s artistic director, who calls the work “fiercely funny and deeply insightful.”
Phạm serves as both writer and performer in Everyman’s production, cast as the Vietnamese mother-in-law Mrs. Trần opposite Định James Đoàn as Mr. Trần, with the couple speaking in Vietnamese amongst each other and in interactions with translator Mỹlinh, played by Carolina Đỗ, who speaks in both Vietnamese and English. (“I wanted to normalize hearing a foreign language on stage,” says playwright Phạm.)
The cast is rounded out by Everyman Resident Company members Helen Hedman as Joyce Drumming and Bruce Randolph Nelson as her husband, Murray Drumming.
Paige Hernandez, Everyman’s associate artistic director, helms the production, which she refers to as “special” as well as “significant and unique.”
“The majority of our designers (including myself) and cast identify as having Asian heritage and can speak to the lived experiences of the characters in the play,” Hernandez says, adding, “For many of us, it is our first collaboration that is both woman- and Asian-centric in our careers.”
Through Oct. 2 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette St., in Baltimore, Md.
Tickets are $29 to $73, or $19.99 for a Digital Video stream between Sept. 23 and Oct. 16.
Visit www.everymantheatre.org or call 410-752-2208.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!