Perhaps theater presenters Café Nordo’s most impressive work in the decade since its founding is the performance space it reclaimed in 2015 from the basement of the former Elliott Bay Book Co. on First and Main in Pioneer Square. Both utilitarian and chic, it’s as simple as can be: a black box with 15 or so tables surrounding a small stage on three sides, with a loft platform for the band up in one corner. And it turns out to be an ideal space—intimate yet uncongested—for Nordo’s fresh and exquisitely thoughtful reinvention of dinner theater.
The fixed four-course menu, curated as they all are by Erin Brindley—who must have the funnest job in Seattle theater—is planned to match the setting of each of Nordo’s shows. Currently that’s 7th and Jackson, set in the International District, and the superb food reflects the play’s multicultural cast: fragrantly garlicky dim sum vegetables; dumplings in a pork/hibiscus (for tang) broth; lettuce wraps with crunchy, savory nuggets of buttermilk fried chicken; and blackberry tarts + coconut ice cream. Accompanied by both a generous wine/cocktail list and antique silverware in random mix-and-match patterns, these courses appear before and after the show and during the two intermissions.
The play’s by actor/director/playwright Sara Porkalob, the hardest-working person in Seattle theater (if you see a show anywhere in King County and she’s not mentioned in the program, it’s probably a typo). Opening just before World War II does, the story covers 20 years, plus a couple childhood flashbacks, in the lives of three high-school friends in the ID: Lee (Anasofia Gallegos), whose strict Filipina mother pressures her to take over the family business (i.e., never leave the hood); Min (Corinne Magin), a politically feisty Korean whose wounds over the brutal Japanese occupation of her homeland (1910–45) are still raw; and Ada (Sarah Nicole Russell), the African-American daughter of a local jazz pianist.
The three have musical ambitions—and sing, like angels, a rich selection of the period’s standards. Generational conflict complicates things (each actress also plays her character’s parent), as does the war, as does racial tension, as does James (Van Lang Pham), the son of the owner of a local nightclub who becomes entangled with the three both professionally and romantically. He enlists after Pearl Harbor, and through his correspondence becomes the voice from the front. Aaron Jin also does double duty as the live band’s pianist and shy Japanese-American student Robert. Made more poignant by the fact that it all takes place blocks from where you sit, it’s a rich portrait of the time—which deserves to be toured to or staged by every high school in the state.
7:30 p.m. Wed.–Sat., 6 p.m. Sun,. through Aug. 11. $79. Café Nordo’s Culinarium, Pioneer Square, 109 S Main St.; 206.579.6215; cafenordo.com