Dinner-and-wine-and-wacky-cabaret Teatro ZinZanni has a new home in Woodinville and a new show: "Hollywood & Vine." Food writer Bethany Jean Clement and arts writer Brendan Kiley went to evaluate the experience (all three-plus hours of it!).
Welcome back to Art Outings — a series in which Seattle Times critics try out local cultural happenings paired with food and drinks (smart!). In this installment, food writer Bethany Jean Clement and arts writer Brendan Kiley journeyed to the wilds of Woodinville wine country to enjoy (and, at three-plus hours, sometimes endure) Teatro ZinZanni’s first show — called “Hollywood & Vine” — in its new location. (ZinZanni was forced to fold up its spiegeltent near Seattle Center last year.) For the uninitiated: Teatro ZinZanni is dinner, wine and wacky cabaret. The participation of acclaimed chef Jason Wilson (formerly Crush, now Miller’s Guild, The Lakehouse and more) set food expectations pretty high. How was it?!
It begins: the setting and the Very Special Tent
Bethany: It is DARK this time of year out in Woodinville, and Teatro ZinZanni’s parking lot is vast. But the red-carpeted path up to the Very Special Tent — antique, imported from Germany, one of eight in the entire world! — is lined with twinkling lights and, in our case, a thrilled-looking woman in a tiara taking a selfie. Also: people decked out in feather boas and fancy hats! The tone was set: fully goofy and arguably fun?!
Brendan: My favorite person in the ZinZanni tent (besides my esteemed colleague, of course) was the marvelous older lady in a wheelchair wearing a tiny, sparkly orange hat, drinking a Moscow Mule, surrounded by what looked to be her adoring family. Clowns be damned: Her girlish delight at the dexterous cirque acts was the most enchanting sight of the night. The set deployed old-timey, backwoodsy accents (a big wood barrel, a stuffed deer head) and plenty of glitter. It looked like a logger bar in drag. The discordant aesthetic forced the obvious question any ZinZanni show wants its audience to ask: What will happen next?!?
The first course and the hi-LAR-ious premise
Brendan: Teatro ZinZanni was “immersive” before that became trendy — blushing audience members are part of the action, whether they like it or not. (Of course they like it. That’s why they keep showing up.) While people got settled and met their servers — ours was the angelic Gabriel, with sparkly mustache and eyebrows — the clowns made their rounds. Two almost frothingly gregarious brothers in flannel and facial hair asked people if this was their first time at the “Sasquatch Convention.” Meanwhile, the more feral-looking brother “borrowed” Bethany’s napkin to polish the shoes of some guy at the next table. Hee haw!
Bethany: All this, and SO MUCH MORE: a sort of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”/fish-out-of-water thing with a trio of glammy women arriving by train from Jersey, accents, animal prints and all; a hunt for Bigfoot; a kinda-romantic subplot; song, dance and SO MUCH audience participation! Patrons plucked from the crowd are kept up there for so long, they should be on the payroll.
Brendan: Participation-heavy shows are polarizing. Some (like me) feel a touch of agony watching people fret under the spotlight. Others thrill to that sense of low-stakes danger, where you have nothing to lose but your dignity. That’s the ZinZanni crowd.
Bethany: The ZinZanni appetizer was crudite: crunchy vegetables with caramelized onion dip and a “Green Root Hummus.” The latter, discovered belatedly at the bottom of the veggie cup, could’ve used some lemon to liven it up. The “Parmesan Potato Chips” seemed like plain Tim’s brand from near the bottom of the bag. And my “Farm Vegetable Pickle” was indeed singular rather than plural: one radish. Also, I got asparagus and Brendan did not (I shared!). Still, it all tasted fresh and just fine — and for dinner theater, that’s like an A+.
The acrobatics and the soup
Bethany: I may have lost my mind during the show, but I came away feeling strongly that the world needs a LOT more hula-hooping. Preferably with plural hula hoops per person. Sparkly hula hoops!
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Brendan: I lost count of the hoops Alesya Gulevich undulated up and down her body. First six, then 10, then at least 20? Maybe 30? Her finale involved throwing a bunch around her, clacking around like a human Slinky, then churning for a few seconds, almost entirely hidden in her self-propelled cyclone of hoops.
Bethany: And in a feat of service, the soup arrived quite hot! Intro’d as “Italian Wedding,” it contained many root vegetables (only a few oddly still crunchy), small gnocchi (only a little oversoft), a slight spiciness and a pleasant herbiness. Not a show-stealer, but a solid soup. (But, you know, liquid.)
Brendan: French acrobat Domitil Aillot has been with ZinZanni for years, and is almost always its most indelible performer. His character: Cool Frenchman with the glint of passionate lover. His act: Gliding up, down and around a large black pole with the improbable grace of Fred Astaire. He pulled one truly awe-inspiring move, gripping the pole, dozens of feet above tables full of plates and glasses, and perfectly, precisely mime-walked through a square in the air. It was a vaudevillian spacewalk.
Bethany: He takes you with him into space! Even if you haven’t indulged in our local legal cannabis (about which ZinZanni makes many jokes).
See what else Bethany Jean Clement has been eating and loving (or complaining about!) lately
The main course and the music
Bethany: Let’s just say that the musical numbers had some highlights … and some lowlights.
Brendan: Such are the perils of any ZinZanni show. Some performers know their limits and merrily sail inside that perimeter. Others push themselves too far, flubbing notes or disclosing discomfort through tense, forced smiles. That can be painful to watch. A German word for this: fremdscham, “vicarious embarrassment,” the opposite of schadenfreude. Fremdscham is part of ZinZanni’s enduring attraction. The place has made its name on a strange balancing act between frayed-at-the-edges and unexpectedly, adroitly transporting.
Bethany: The entrees did a balancing act, too, given the dinner-theater duress (serving that many people simultaneously is a real kitchen nightmare, no matter how many times it’s done). My butterflied prawns, each nicely daubed with gremolata, tended toward tough only the tiniest bit; Brendan’s roasted pumpkin ravioli evaded over- or undercooking, their brown-butter sauce citrusy-bright. Is it the kind of fine cuisine you’d get at a Jason Wilson restaurant? No. Is it completely, acceptably tasty? Yes.
The dessert and the jokes
Bethany: In my estimation, the entire show was fully absconded with by hilarious diva Christine Deaver. Especially in her role-within-a-role as spangled Microsoft-millionaire-now-cowboysonly.com-magnate named Cash, she can crack up the entire room just by drawing out a hapless audience-participant’s name (“Chrisssssssss!” Chris looked like he couldn’t tell whether this was heaven or hell).
Brendan: You just like her because you complimented her in the lobby and she purred back: “You are very intelligent.” Which is fine! That’s what ZinZanni is all about. It seduces you into feeling like you’re watching superhumanly talented people but that you’re sorta-kinda part of the zany gang.
Bethany: Indeed, Deaver is incredibly perceptive as well as an excellent performer, and it’s true, everyone does their part: cast, audience, staff. Angel-server Gabriel told us winkingly that dessert would be a roller coaster, and it was, delivered in part by an apparatus that … well, no spoilers. And, happy back flip: Billed as “Classic Tiramisu,” dessert itself actually proved to be a luxurious chocolate tartlet with marshmallowy garnish (better than wet cake).
This is ZinZanni!
Bethany: Again, maybe I’ve lost my mind, but I kind of loved ZinZanni — decent food (not to mention decent wine) really helps. The acrobatics thrilled, and the jokes (sometimes) killed. And the tent is pretty! This is not the occasion for incisive criticism.
Brendan: I salute your tact. ZinZanni, as we knew it, appears alive and well.
Teatro ZinZanni’s “Hollywood & Vine,” through April 28, 2019; 14100 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville; $99-$169; 206-802-0015, zinzanni.com