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Originally published Friday, October 19, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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Review: Café Nordo's fare better than its 'Twin Peaks'-like whodunit

A review of Café Nordo's new dinner-and-craft-drinks-with-a-show, "Somethin' Burning." Through Nov. 18, 2012.

Seattle Times theater critic

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

Café Nordo: 'Somethin' Burning'

Through Nov. 18, Theatre off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave., Seattle; $60-$70 (800-838-3000 or www.brownpapertickets.com).
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Were you one of those compulsive watchers of the David Lynch TV series "Twin Peaks"? That eerie, campy drama serial about an FBI agent investigating the death of a teenage homecoming queen in northern Washington? That early-'90s cult fave filmed mainly around Snoqualmie Falls and North Bend?

If so, and you were able to disentangle all the real/surreal kinks and knots in its rococo plot, you may just fathom the murky doings in the new Café Nordo show, "Somethin' Burning."

If not, good luck making much sense of this mock murder mystery with a message. Instead you could pay the tariff to sit back and enjoy the more edifying aspects of this buffet of Northwest Noir: the witty and delish cuisine, the parade of potent cocktails and the smoky original jazz numbers (performed by Annastasia Workman and her combo, featuring singer Devin Bannon).

But it's too bad the script isn't better. Part of the charm of the Café Nordo outfit is their switching up and spoofing of genres. With a large nod to the Lynch series, and a wink to the less-quirky dinner-mystery genre, they serve here an "immersive dining experience" set in a roadhouse in the hinterlands.

The locale is perfect: the second floor of the elderly Chinatown International District building housing Theatre Off Jackson, which has served as a hangout for the artsy Canoe Social Club. The rustic, aromatic wood paneling, and the mounted sheep's head and antler chandelier, put you in mind of the kind of old joint you might stumble over off the highway.

Friendly waitstaff/performers greet you like you're a regular, and bring the first mini-cocktail in a daunting flight of them: a yummy Cherry Pie Mimosa, with bourbon-soaked cherries nestled in a pool of cava (sparkling wine), like the prize in a box of Cracker Jack.

Between acts, you are fed a very clever take on breakfast-for-dinner: a mashed potato "doughnut" with savory coffee-flavored gravy for dipping. Plump salmon sausages with creamy grits. Best of all, a borscht "parfait": layers of sour cream, golden-beet borscht and red-beet borscht.

Ordering that in an old-timey roadhouse? In your dreams.

The main course: a convoluted story to track about who killed the show's phantom standard-bearer, Chef Nordo Lefesczki, with his own carving knife. His wacky bimbo ex-wife (Keira McDonald)? His punky estranged daughter (Opal Peachey?) The sleazy huckster (Maximillian Davis), who wants to tear down eateries with character and replace them with dreaded chain restaurants?

This is what a blandly stiff-necked "special agent" (Evan Mosher) looks into, in rambling interviews with prime suspects and fragmented flashbacks. A couple of ghostly bikers (MJ Sieber, Noah Benezra) chime in as a bearded, folksy Greek chorus, ruminating on Old Americana vs. soulless, eco-bad fast-food franchises.

There are some laughs here, and no doubt "Twin Peaks" insider jokes. But Terry Podgorski's lumpy script is both overly obvious and too obscure. And the actors sometimes seem as mystified as we are, right up to that Lynchian supernatural (?) twist at the end.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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