Since Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special, Nanette, started doing big business in views and reviews, all sorts of comedians have written or dusted off longer solo pieces that combine comedy, storytelling, and a little good old theatrical flair. Franco Nguyen’s Good Morning Viet*Mom, playing in the Aki Studio theatre after a solid Next Stage Festival run, is an entry into this category (and a solid one at that).
Nguyen, a comedian (and filmmaker and actor and aspiring MC and perhaps also some other things) sets out to tell the stories in his family line that brought him to the moment in which he finds himself. They begin before the Vietnam War, where his parents from neighboring provinces find themselves in the same Malaysian refugee camp, and finish in the Toronto of today, where Nguyen – currently thirty-one years old – lives with his mother. There are, as one might imagine, some challenges.
The best thing Nguyen has going for him in Good Morning Viet*Mom isn’t his mother’s eccentricities, his sly and on-point pokes at racism and xenophobia, or his video footage of tender family moments – though all are valuable – but his sheer likability. His stripped-down style and relatively spare delivery combine to give the audience of a sense of him as both an earnest and an honest narrator, which I found especially pleasing in today’s whizz-bang technical melee. Beyond that, Nguyen feels with the audience in a way that carried a ring of authenticity. He’s a talented performer in this genre.
The video footage, and the theme of trying to bring things into frame or four generally, worked well for the piece even if it wasn’t a particularly innovative choice. I enjoyed his choice to tell the story in a non-linear way, moving from emotional touchpoint to emotional touchpoint and then calling back had an internal logic that kept the audience oriented but alert/ And Nguyen’s mother is obviously quite a character. My primary complaint is that I found the ending of Good Morning Viet*Mom hasty and pat after a nuanced (and thoughtful) discussion of immigrant experiences, violence, the complexities of a homeland, racism and more. This may be the challenge of doing a piece about a living relative as opposed to a dead one (see Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home vs. Are You My Mother? for perfect illustration of the concept). But I still reached the end feeling a sense of the piece having deflated somewhat, where Nguyen (and dramaturg Darrel Gamotin) could have continued making stronger, more interesting choices. All in all, though, a worthwhile piece of work.
Photo of Franco Nguyen by Dahlia Katz, design by Mariah Meawasige