“Persimmon Nights” mixes theater and Korean cuisine

The cast of “Persimmon Nights,” playing at Cafe Nordo in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Ian Johnston)

In the play “Persimmon Nights,” running at Cafe Nordo through July 29, audience members experience the rise and fall of an Asian American nightclub owner through music, drama — and flavor.

The play by Seayoung Yim has been adapted for Cafe Nordo, a Seattle dinner theater company that as incorporated the food as part of the theatrical experience since 2009.

“Persimmon Nights” features actor Ray Tagavilla as Jae Min Kang, the proprietor of the Persimmon Grove, once one of Los Angeles’ most famous Asian-American lounges. After his death, four women from his past — played by Melissa Maañao, Annie Yim, Mara Elissa Palma and director Sara Porkalob — search for resolution, personal answers and, perhaps, vindication.

Their stories take us back and forth in time, as fashions — and beliefs — rise and fall.

And the dinner — divided into “Ban Chan,” “Funeral Course” and “Wedding Course” — mirrors what’s happening onstage.

Porkalob “was instrumental in making edits to the script to fit the dinner theatre format and weaving meal breaks with the story,” said Yim, whose work includes “Do It for Umma.”

The meal was developed by local actor Corinne Magin, who was a consultant on the show, and Cafe Nordo founder, artistic director and chef Erin Brindley. Tim Hodgson was the production’s sous chef.

“Corinne and Erin worked with Seayoung and Sara to come up with food that reflected the characters, and the celebrations that are the cornerstones of the production,” said Opal Peachey, a publicist and performer for Cafe Nordo.

The meals are served in courses between scenes and at Cafe Nordo, the menu is as important to the rehearsal process as any other aspect of the production.

“Corinne gave initial suggestions for the menu, and created delicious tastings for us to try,” Yim said. “We corresponded via email and also sent Instagram messages to each other. I was mainly interested giving feedback in the look of the food and found some images of Korean royal plating that I sent to Erin and Corinne for inspiration. I loved that they used flowers throughout the menu and provided an icy dessert for hot July nights.”

According to Magin, she and Yim discussed their favorite dishes and how to incorporate them into dinner theater.

“I did a tasting event at my house where I cooked all of my favorite Korean dishes and dishes that I thought complimented the show,” Magin said. “Erin and Seayoung helped pick their favorite dishes from that tasting. I gave recipes to Erin and then came to help in the kitchen on a few occasions as a consultant. We collaborated tasting and tweaking recipes. Erin has such a good palate. She can try something and recreate it with ease.”

Magin said she had experience with Cafe Nordo, having performed there in 2016.

“We chose dishes that complimented each other in terms of palate, service and story,” she said.

The “Ban Chan,” a bevy of side dishes, include Gamja Jorim (Braised Soy Sauce Potatoes); Kongnamul Muchim (Marinated Soybean Sprouts);Jikinmu (Korean White Radish); Kkaennip Jangajji (Pickled Sesame Leaf); and the well-known dish Kimchi (Spicy Fermented Cabbage).

The “Funeral Course” consists of Haemul Pageon (Pancake with Scallops); Bay Shrimp, and Squid, with the option of Scallion Pancakes.

The “Wedding Course” is Jap Chae (Sweet Potato Noodles with Shitake Mushrooms, Bok Choy, Egg and a Sesame Soy Sauce). The “Dol Course” combines a Ssam Platter with Beef Bulgogi and Pork Belly, and Patbap (Rice with Red Beans), with the option of vegetarian Bulgogi. And finally, comes a desert of Shaved Ice with Sweet Persimmon Sauce, Red Bean Paste, Mochi and Fresh Berries.

The production also features music from the “Kimchi Kittens,” who are based on the historical Kimchi Kats, a Korean pop group that took the Western world by storm in the ’60s and ’70s. The Kimchi Kittens are an homage band, and will sing several familiar Kats tunes, staged by choreographer Alyza Delpan-Monley and led by band leader Nikki Dee, with Sara Porkalob and Melissa Maañao on lead vocals.

Cafe Nordo’s productions have extended the dinner theater experience to include the audience’s plates for nine years.

Created in 2009 by Brindley and producer Terry Podgorski, Café Nordo first unleashed a program called “A Modern American Chicken.”

They’ve been mixing media, and menus ever since. Three years ago in 2015, they found a home in Pioneer Square they’ve dubbed “Nordo’s Culinarium,” at 109 South Main Street, the former home of the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Peachey says the theater tries to surprise with every production.

“Food, like theater — and to that end, life itself — is a communal experience. Routines are safe and comforting, predictable and pleasant.”

Correction: The playwright’s name was incorrect in an earlier version of this article.

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