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Cafe Nordo: A damn fine cup of 'Twin Peaks' nostalgia

David Lynch's Washington diner TV cult-favorite returns as fantastically kitschy Capitol Hill dinner theater.
The mural over the back bar, created by Jennifer Zeyl.

The mural over the back bar, created by Jennifer Zeyl. Ronald Holden

Who around here didn't love David Lynch's cult TV series Twin Peaks? That ironic, self-referential, small-town murder-mytsery ("Who Killed Laura Palmer?") with ground-breaking, hallucinogenic plot twists and increasingly bizarre characters ("Bob," the One-Armed Man, Laura Palmer's almost-identical cousin). Don't all answer at once. Maybe it was on past your bedtime, but you've surely heard the haunting theme song by Angelo Badalamenti. And you know about the cherry pie and "damn fine coffee," consumed by Kyle McLachlan in the RR Diner.

The show was set in a cafe in North Bend, in the Cascade foothills 30 miles from Seattle, and in the early 1990s it was so popular in Japan — Japan! — that busloads of tourists would pull into the parking lot of the real-life café and just gawk. (Nowadays, they'd be heading to the outlet mall.)

Then the show descended into a self-referential death spiral in its second season; a movie sequel, Fire Walk With Me, didn't do all that well, and there was a horrific fire at the diner in 2000. So it's not surprising that there's not been a Twin Peaks revival...until now. And who better to incorporate all the elements of a tribute and a parody than the master of dinner-theater satire, Café Nordo?

Created by Erin Bridnley and Terry Podgorski, the through-line in Cafe Nordo's three-year-old franchise is an unseen, mad (as in crazy) chef named Nordo Lefesczki, who has his hand in pop-up dinners across town, from "The Great American Chicken" in the Circus Contraption warehouse in Fremont, to a "Cabinet of Culinary Curiosities" in the Central District, to, now, "Somethin' Burning" at the ID's Theater Off Jackson.

The evening's drama, like the original premise of Twin Peaks, is a who-dunnit. The TOJ space has been transformed into a dingy, wood-panelled café from the 1950s that really does look like the RR Diner. There's a mural over the bar (created by Stranger-Genius Jennifer Zeyl) that recalls the opening credits of the TV show. The music, by Annastasia Workman, channels Twin Peaks' Badalamenti with overlays of country-western nostalgia.

The victim is Nordo himself, stabbed with his own kitchen knife. The investigator, with Special Agent Cooper's deadpan mannerisms, is now named Special Agent Penn, played by Evan Mosher, who doubles on trumpet. Opal Peachey plays one of the suspects, the lascivious teenager Angelica Crew, with a bent for arson.

Cocktails are poured, a four-course dinner is served (a tasty mashed-potato donut with "coffee gravy;" a beet-and-beef parfait). And if the conclusion doesn't quite answer the question of "Who Really Dunnit," well, just remember that the TV series didn't resolve things either. Was it the scheming ex-wife of the victim? Was it the malevolent beaver? Was it all a dream? Could you smell the bacon?

Café Nordo shows have a homespun lack of pretense. Their characters remain resolutely in character, even during breaks. The scripts regularly assail the soul-destroying purveyors of fast food — even as the performers double as waitstaff and serve plates of "Nouvelle Roadhouse Cuisine" to the patrons. Brindley and Podgorski nuzzle right up to the line of self-parody, but don't cross it.

It takes a lot of work to convert each new space into a theatrical set, two shows a year, with a very limited number of seats (60 at TOJ). Where next? Back to Fremont, rumor has it, to West of Lenin. But Podgorski's not making promises. "You have to be in the know." Nordo's still a cult figure, after all, even if he's been killed off.

If you go: Café Nordo presents Somethin' Burning at Theater Off Jackson, 409 7th Avenue S. The show runs for the next five weeks. Tickets online at BrownPaperTickets.

 

Ronald Holden is a regular Crosscut contributor. His new book, published this month, is titled “HOME GROWN Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink." (Belltown Media. $17.95).


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