As an inveterate single-tasker, I've never understood the logic of dinner theater. Is it designed for people who don't have time to eat before or after the show? For companions short on dinner conversation? Dinner theater is an old, dated form that once guaranteed mediocre food plus mediocre entertainment. Still, give credit to Café Nordo for reviving the art over the past three years, allowing patrons to immerse themselves in a fictional world with a unified decor, menu, and story line.
Theater Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S., 800-838-3006, cafenordo.com. $60-$70. 7:30 p.m. Thurs. & Sun., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Ends Nov. 18.
In Somethin' Burning, Nordo's fourth show, you enter a simulacrum of the iconic roadside diner in Twin Peaks: motley Formica tabletops, an antler chandelier, and a large mountain-landscape painting by Jennifer Zeyl that's classier than the one it's supposed to be imitating. In the same vein, the menu elements—camouflaged as greasy-spoon standbys and distributed by the chatty actors—exceed expectations. The "parfait" course comes in Pyrex pudding goblets, tucking heavenly gobs of beets and Snake River wagyu beef between layers of horse-radish sour cream, so you can eat like a foodie while looking like a hick. (Some patrons dressed like characters on Twin Peaks.) In addition to the seductive welcome drink of cava and cherries, each of the four breakfast-themed courses comes paired with a cocktail, which, perhaps strategically, adds up to a lot of alcohol before the show's tipsy conclusion.
Though the music composed by Annastasia Workman (plus one brilliant piece by the late Drew Keriakedes) and sung by Devin Bannon creates a decent atmosphere of hepcat cool and loopy menace, it can't alter the sad fact that the story doesn't work. On a riser amid the tables, Agent Elliot Penn (Evan Mosher) must figure out who killed chef Nordo Lefesczki. Was it his late former boss' gorgeous daughter Angelica (Opal Peachey)? Or perhaps Nordo's hatchet-voiced ex-wife Delores (an endearingly skanky Keira McDonald)? Or thuggish Michael Stern (Maximillian Davis, whose sunglasses and toothpick ensure he won't be mistaken for anything but a caricature)?
Because we never meet dead Nordo, and it sounds like he was a jerk, and since all the other characters are jerks, it's hard to care about anyone, much less follow the busily static details. The suspects' machinations alternate with fast-food-bemoaning philosophizing from a peanut gallery of bandanna-headed passers-through (MJ Sieber and Noah Benezra). It's a shame the able cast doesn't have a script to match the menu. Fortunately, the enigmatic dancing beaver (Sachie Mikawa) holds her tongue.