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Specially Processed American Me

Somehow, in under 90 minutes, a great deal of history and personal angst is processed.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Nathaniel Basch-Gould as Jay Hormel in a scene from Jaime Sunwoo’s “Specially Processed American Me” now at Dixon Place (Photo credit: Toby Tenenbaum)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

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.

Sarah Shin as Jamie in a scene from Jaime Sunwoo’s “Specially Processed American Me” now at Dixon Place (Photo credit: Toby Tenenbaum)

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.

Eunji Lim as Grandma in a scene from Jaime Sunwoo’s “Specially Processed American Me” now at Dixon Place (Photo credit: Toby Tenenbaum)

(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.

Adrianna Mateo, Vanessa Rappa, Eunji Lim, Juella Baltonado and Monica Goff in a scene from Jaime Sunwoo’s “Specially Processed American Me” now at Dixon Place (Photo credit: Toby Tenenbaum)

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.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (440 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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