A man shares a bowl of berries, and a young woman falls in love. A world away, a mother prepares a bowl of soup to keep her son from leaving home. And a son cooks a meal for his dying father to say everything that words can’t. In Julia Cho’s poignant and lyrical new play, the making of a perfect meal is an expression more precise than language, and the medium through which life gradually reveals itself.
Julia Cho: I reached a point where I felt, “This is ridiculous that I haven’t written a play in so long.” And what I did on just the most practical level was, I wrote out a contract that said, “I promise I will write every single day until I have a play.” And then I signed it and I dated it. And I kept the promise.
There are two dishes, above all, that I associate with my father. The first is ramen. And by “ramen” I mean instant ramen, not the artisanal, simmered-for-40-hours kind of Japanese ramen so popular right now. The latter is undoubtedly more delicious but was entirely unavailable to me in my youth.
When Sah-Jin, the widowed immigrant mother in Julia Cho’s stirring, melancholic ‘99 Histories,’ describes a traumatic parting with the sister she last saw as a teenager in Korea, her story forms around the memory of food.
The connection between taste and memory is a well-documented mystery. We’ve all had the experience, whether at some truck-stop diner or otherwise dull dinner party, in which the taste, smell, and texture of food unexpectedly fuse mid-bite to trigger some long-forgotten, surprisingly detailed memory of another time and place in our lives: the quality of the light, the song on the radio, the stain on the carpet, and the sense of well-being (or lack thereof) these created in us.