Opening Nights: The Modern American Chicken

The Modern

American Chicken

Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave., $65–$90. 7:30 p.m. Thurs. & Sun., 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat. Ends Nov. 24.

An African tradition, dating back hundreds if not thousands of years, calls for a ritual to accompany the creation of a new drum. First an egg is cracked at the base of the chosen tree as a symbol of life, then follow prayers to acknowledge the sacrifice of the living tree.

Café Nordo has something similar in mind in restaging their first Seattle production, which made them local luminaries four years ago. The show pays homage to all things henhouse with a fanciful dining experience that does for the art of fine food and conversation what Shortbus did for sex. Equal parts meet-and-greet, nightclub, and gustatory exploration, Chicken is also a winking nod to—and lampoon of—the dinner theaters of yesteryear. But this is not some kitschy remounting of The Odd Couple set off by a three-bean casserole, store-bought rolls, and lemon-baked chicken breast for 500. Rather, there’s an Old World feel as the evening unfolds, with an accordion player gliding across the ballroom floor while the waiters—imaginatively costumed by Alenka Loesch—seat their patrons, not all of whom know each other beforehand.

What follows is a didactic-gastronomic tour through the life of a chicken named Henrietta, regularly punctuated with high-flung prose to illuminate each course, offset by generous pours of some of the best wines grown around the state. Hovering omnisciently is the apocryphal Chef Nordo himself, speaking through his charges about the origins and sensory details of your meal. The intent, successfully achieved, is that you become closer to both the food and the guests at your table. It only makes sense, then, that the meal is the main event, and in both presentation and flavor, it does not disappoint. Designed by director Erin Brindley, the menu proceeds from egg—nestled in a nest made from Parmesan cheese and phyllo—to a mild and savory chicken soup to a roast chicken stuffed with homemade sausage and habanero cherries.

Maximillian Davis brings sardonic flair to his role as emcee; Annastasia Workman’s original score includes country sing-alongs, jazzy instrumentals, and bluesy laments, all handled with dexterity by the performers, who also serve between the theatrical interludes (written by Terry Podgorski). With its delights and surprises (though few plot points other than the courses served), this is one very self-aware Chicken. Its performers all acknowledge the hoary dinner-theater clichés with tongues planted firmly in cheek, yet Chicken is certainly more highbrow and more foodie-oriented than anything you’d see in Branson or Vegas. (In fact, this show would make a great episode of Portlandia.) All the patrons at my table, fellow theaterfolk from Seattle or New York, shared in the irony and enjoyed a dinner most fowl.

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