The view into a 1960s Korean-American nightclub in L.A. is intriguing, with a five-course Korean dinner-theater menu to welcome you to Persimmon Grove.
Backed up by a smooth, jazzy all-gal instrumental combo, gussied-up chanteuses harmonize on the “West Side Story” anthem, “Tonight,” on the Latin classic “Besame Mucho” and on other tried-and-true standard tunes, crooning lyrics in Korean, English and Spanish.
Welcome to the Persimmon Grove, a popular Korean-American nightclub in L.A.’s Koreatown, where the music is sleek, the food can get spicy and the love triangle between the owner, his wife and his mistress has star billing.
The latest dinner-theater offering from Pioneer Square’s Café Nordo plays out like a glossy movie melodrama from the early 1960s — but in an Asian-American entertainment milieu of that period, which hasn’t often been evoked in mainstream stage or film.
Scripted by playwright Seayoung Yim and directed by Sara Porkalob (who also co-stars), “Persimmon Nights” unfolds in tandem with a five-course meal that a devotee of Asian cooking at my table assured me represents authentic Korean cuisine — including (of course) kimchi, the fermented vegetable dish brined and liberally coated in red-hot pepper.
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Between family-style servings of such additional Korean delicacies as haemul pajeon (fish-vegetable pancake), and lettuce wraps with beef and pork belly, the show delivers a lot of familiar clichés about endearing rogues and the women who love them too much — while only scraping the surface of their motivations and backstories.
But “Persimmon Nights” has an enjoyably glam look, enjoyable tunes and a peppy menu. The dialogue is speckled with brash humor and bittersweet reveries. And the five intertwined characters are depicted with affection by writer Yim and the cast.
That affection even extends to the call-me-irresponsible impresario Jae Min Kang, played with suave bonhomie and a guilty streak by versatile Café Nordo stalwart Ray Tagavilla. This ambitious guy’s pursuit of wealth, and ardor for his sweet, talented wife Young Ah (Porkalob) — one-half of the up-and-coming singing duo The Kimchi Kittens (loosely inspired by a real-life Korean-American pop group, The Kimchi Kats) — comes through strong. (The other “kitten” is played by a brassy Melissa Maañao.)
You also believe Kang is incapable of fidelity and can be quite a flake. His life gets complicated when one of his side squeezes (played by Annie Yim) is pregnant and delivers the child he’s always longed for but Young Ah could never produce.
All this is covered in flashbacks, as his now-grown daughter (Mara Elissa Palma) attends Kang’s memorial service at the former Persimmon Grove (now an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant), and tries to piece together what made her very part-time, undependable but loving-in-his-own-way father tick.
The platitudes of the genre are plentiful, and sometimes the verbal patter aims for snappy but winds up clunky. (At one point, Kang’s mistress tells him she feels as forgotten “as a half-bottle of Drano under the sink.”)
More intriguing are the tidbits of history about Asian-American nightspots in general, and the psychic toll taken on immigrants who’ve been “bullied, colonized and bombed” in their native land, and wind up in America feeling “always a little hungry, a little empty,” according to Kang.
A consistent pleasure of “Persimmon Nights” is Porkalob’s performance. As in her well-regarded show “Dragon Lady” (which has toured locally, including to Café Nordo), she is a full-throated, stylish singer and a magnetic actress — even when assigned here to the limiting role of a quietly long-suffering spouse.
Just before a dessert of shaved ice and fruit is served, when the women in Kang’s life come together in a spirit of solidarity, Porkalob can even make a lifetime of loyal, wifely endurance interesting. Now that takes talent.
“Persimmon Nights,” by Seayoung Yim. Through July 29 at Nordo’s Culinarium, 109 S. Main St., Seattle; $75/includes dinner; 206- 209-2002, cafenordo.com