Who knew that SPAM has figured so importantly in Korean and Korean-American cuisines? Jaime Sunwoo’s Specially Processed American Me tells that story and much more.
Specially Processed American Me—check out those first letters!—uses SPAM as a metaphor to explore the huge subject of the Korean War, SPAM and her own intimate, moving autobiography as a Korean-American.
SPAM was introduced in 1937 and was Joe Hormel’s contribution to the cause during World War II and then the Korean War during which possession of cans of SPAM became a symbol of plenty to a starving Korean population.
Specially begins with four Hormel Girl cheerleaders—one playing Matt Chilton’s mood music—touting the product along with Jay Hormel (Nathaniel Basch-Gould who catches the gung-ho crassness of each of the characters he plays) acting more like a ringmaster than a businessman.
The show opens up in the same way the surprising set does. What at first appears to be a tall, pink monolith unfolds to reveal a central screen and two large side panels that serve multiple purposes as Specially progresses through history and memoir.
It’s what’s on the screen that drives the complex storytelling. Sunwoo uses a giddy combination of shadow play, historic videos, projections, computer games and music to produce a work whose sum is greater than its many ingenious parts.
(Ms. Sunwoo is billed as the playwright, co-director with Karim Muasher, prop, puppet and costume designer, projection graphic illustrator and producing artistic director, all of which she manages splendidly.)
Jaime (a quietly delightful Sarah Shin) guides the production joining the disparate sections with her tales of childhood (“Do you Koreans eat dogs?”) and her quieter, emotionally teeming dining segments during which she shares SPAM dishes with her friends and, more importantly, memories with her beloved Grandma (Eunji Lim, speaking Korean–translated with subtitles—but making herself perfectly understood).
Food is of the utmost importance here: how it joins families and friends together over a shared table and how it alienates a “foreigner” from her American community.
Somehow, in under 90 minutes, Specially Processed American Me processes a great deal of history and personal angst.
Although there are some rough edges and overly cute acting by Vanessa Rappa, Monica Goff, Juella Baltonado and Adrianna Mateo (who is also music director), further performances and refinements will sharpen Specially Processed American Me.
The lighting designer is Sarah Lurie, the projection designer Cinthia Chen, both contributing their talents to the show.
Specially Processed American Me (through February 19, 2022)
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.dixonplace.org
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission
Somehow, in under 90 minutes, a great deal of history and personal angst is processed.