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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 7, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 23
Drama at dinnertime - Teatro ZinZanni and Café Nordo offer a feast for all the senses
Arts & Entertainment
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Drama at dinnertime - Teatro ZinZanni and Café Nordo offer a feast for all the senses

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

SMOKED!
CAFÉ NORDO (at 309 1st Ave. S.)
Through June 23

LUCKY IN LOVE
TEATRO ZINZANNI
Through September 8


Dinner theater was a popular concept years ago, in venues built just to accommodate such events, but it got a bad name because both elements - the dinner and the theater - were often bland affairs, and the idea sort of faded. In Seattle, however, currently there are two completely contrasting opportunities to eat and be entertained, each with highly commendable aspects and a few admitted flaws.

The one that's going away quickest, though sure to be back soon in a new iteration, is the latest Café Nordo show. Café Nordo is a kind of 'occasional eating' opportunity where the full-blooded passion for food education is paired with a light blending of story and music, mixed with hints of the truly offbeat.

Housed in different venues each time, Café Nordo builds a menu and a unique story for each offering. This one, entitled Smoked!, is a 'modern-day spaghetti Western' with real spaghetti (although it's vegetable strips, not pasta). Outfitted as a bar, attendees become tourists who have come to this small town for tomorrow morning's hanging, and in the process we find out that a big, bad industrialist has destroyed the local farming community with his own brand of wheat that is animated with his own brand of fertilizer. Shades of Monsanto!

Café Nordo locally sources its food and creates an adventure in tastes in clever riffs on each dinner theme. Smoked! presents oxtail chili, for instance, and a smoked popcorn appetizer, ending with smoked salt on the rhubarb pandowdy dessert. Old West-themed cocktails, with an inventive blend of whiskeys, simple syrups, and bitters, are offered (mocktails also available on request).

The stories always convey some kind of food education, and are improving in their presentation and content - though the best presentation so far was the far more educational and inventive Cabinet of Curiosities. While the story this time is coherent, the food information, besides the requisite 'corporate farming bad, corporate lawyers bad,' didn't help us understand what was good or possible or desired instead. And it didn't help the digestion that there was a gunfight two feet away from the diners. Still, yes, it could be said to be 'fun.'

And the music, much of it locally composed by the amazing Annastasia Workman, is top-notch and includes ambient accompaniment that might be heard on the movie screen during a spaghetti Western. For more information, go to www.cafenordo.com or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/360366, or call 1-800-838-3006.

TEATRO ZINZANNI
A reliable favorite as well, Teatro ZinZanni continues its high-flying acrobatics inside a historic spiegeltent ingeniously incorporating a new show every three months with fine dining and a tiny, fantastically agile center stage (it goes up and down). This outing, Lucky in Love, transforms the tent into a Las Vegas-style casino, where 'everybody wins.'

Unlike at Café Nordo, there is no particular food mantra in ZinZanni's shows - they are strictly entertainment. There is always a main host, this time a recurring visit by the funny and versatile Joe De Paul; a main singer, usually the 'Mama' character - this time the warm, hearty, supreme vocals of Ms. Francine Reed; and several amazing vaudeville-style acts.

The acts, most regular variety stars here, include Les Petits Frères, an infectious trio of clowns; Duo Madrona, a locally grown and now international trapeze duo; and Vita Radionova, who performs beautifully both with hula hoops and by contorting her own body.

The dinner portion, featuring regional wines, is an upscale though not particularly challenging arrangement, pleasing but not truly memorable. One begins to wish for a bit more thought to be put into the scripting of the evening, with maybe a little more shaking up of the concept or story, so that return visitors can be more challenged and entranced. However, those who see ZinZanni productions for the first time are invariably blown away, particularly by the amazing, truly internationally terrific performers. It is certainly something to see at least once. With a bit more invention, subsequent visits might hold more allure, though it's certain that many returnees enjoy the sense of continuity that ZinZanni provides. For more information, go to dreams.zinzanni.org or call (206) 802-0015.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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