Bi Jean Ngo is worried — worried that the joy and optimism she experienced growing up as the child of political refugees from South Vietnam is being suffocated in today’s toxic atmosphere of racism and hatred.

An actor and a playwright, Ngo has turned to the stage for a remedy. She is offering — as a gift of love and hope, she says — her one-woman show In Search of the Kitchen Gods presented by 1812 Productions, Philadelphia’s theater company dedicated to comedy.

“As an Asian woman, the past two years have been fraught with anti-Asian sentiment and violence,” Ngo said. “My mission is to counter that violence and negativity with my experience. What better way to do that than with joy and love and by inviting them to get to know me and my family? Hearing stories over mealtime can bring people together.”

She described her parents as true patriots and believers in democracy forced to flee Vietnam when the Communist government in North Vietnam took over the entire country after the Vietnam War.

“I was raised with a dual identity with the Vietnamese values of family and honor,” she said, “while expressing myself as a free individual that this country so beautifully gave me the opportunity to be.

“It was important for my parents that I remember their story, keep their families close, and share the recipes that came from Mom to Mom.”

Since she first started working on Kitchen Gods, her father, Ngo-Vuong Toai, passed away. “I feel like I’m honoring him with this project. I feel like I’m celebrating a piece of Asian American life that people don’t know about,” Ngo said.

As she was growing up in Washington, D.C, her parents received support from both the Vietnamese community and the Catholic Church. Ngo, who has lived in Philadelphia for 17 years, discovered similar support in Philadelphia’s theater community.

“I see the same reciprocity existing among the theater community here,” she said. “Philadelphia is like a big small town. The theater community takes care of each other. What a great ecosystem we have.”

Ngo particularly cites the friendship of 1812 Productions. 1812′s producing artistic director and cofounder Jennifer Childs was among those who mentored Ngo via 1812 Production’s Jilline Ringle Solo Performance program. The program, named in honor of the Philadelphia actor, singer, and cabaret artist who died of breast cancer in 2005, provides financial and theatrical support for women artists developing solo work.

1812 Productions is a group dedicated to comedy, so Ngo promises laughter. Makoto Hirano directs. And there will be food — prepared onstage and ready for the audience to sample.

June 8-26, 1812 Productions at Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th St., Phila. 215-592-9560 or


Rags to riches — that’s a familiar plot line for a play, but in Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine, “it’s more like a riches-to-rags kind of tale,” said Amina Robinson, a Temple University professor of acting and musical theater who is directing Lynn Nottage’s play at Lantern Theater Company.

Undine has it all — fabulous looking, great career, handsome husband, even a luxuriously expensive teak desk — until she doesn’t. Turns out that her handsome husband embezzled all her money, and now broke, she must move back to the Brooklyn projects she thought she left behind.

“When all of the things you thought made you valuable are gone, who are you really?” Robinson said. “There’s a face we present to the outside world, [but as we present it] we can lose our sense of purpose and our sense of the meaning of life.”

She hopes people walk away from the play with the desire to be kinder to themselves and others, and to pursue their own authentic lives.

Angela Bey makes their Lantern debut in the title role of Undine. Others in the cast include Gregory Isaac, Ebony Pullum, Tanesha M. Ford, Marchael Giles, Kash Goins, Kishia Nixon, and Zach Valdez.

Through June 26, Lantern Theater Co. at St. Stephen’s Theater, 923 Ludlow St., Phila. 215-829-0395 or

‘By the Way, Meet Vera Clark’

If you’d like to see more of Lynn Nottage’s work, head to Chestnut Hill for her play, By the Way, Meet Vera Clark, presented by The Stagecrafters Theatre. Vera Clark is a young Black actor, frustrated by being constantly cast in roles such as a slave, a cook, or a maid. Later she gets the recognition she deserves. Set in Hollywood 1933, the play is a bitter satire.

June 10-26, The Stagecrafters Theater, 8130 Germantown Ave., Phila. 215-247-9913 or

‘Native Gardens’

Oh, the tyranny of lawns — some like grass crew-cut short, others prefer it long and wavy. Some want it edged, others don’t care. With so many conflicting ideas about appropriate lawns, good fences make good neighbors, right? Wrong. Not in the case of Pablo, a high-powered lawyer, and Tania, his very pregnant wife. When they move in next door to community longtimers Frank and Virginia, a fence line becomes a problem along with taste, class, entitlement, and privilege. Montgomery Theater presents Native Gardens, a comedy by Karen Zacarias.

Through June 26, Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St., Souderton. 215-723-9984 or


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