By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Intertwining history, psychology, emotion, and the hit music of yesteryear together in an ambitious dinner theatre project might seem like a big bite to take. But Sara Porkalob, writer and dramatic director of “7th and Jackson,” playing now at Café Nordo, seemed confident enough to tackle, mentally at least, one problem at a time, starting with historical research.
“I started asking questions,” said Porkalob about the early phases of the musical production, set in and around a jazz club in Seattle’s International District.
“The questions that I started with were, what was happening in that neighborhood, in terms of cultural mixing? Where were people of different cultures coming to meet, to socialize, to intersect?
“And I found, that was a lot of the jazz clubs, dance halls, churches. Those were the places of community gathering. And I found documentation largely through the UW library, they were a huge resource. A lot of the stuff I was quoting from, they were short articles, ’zines, photographs, newspapers…”
The action follows the ups and downs of three young women, one Black, one Filipina, and one Korean Chinese, played by Sarah Russell, Corinne Magin, Anasofia Gallegos, and Corinne Magin. The action bounces back and forth between just prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the three make a solemn vow to help each other accomplish their dreams, through the 1960s.
“I’ve worked with each of them in different capacities,” remarked Porkalob on her leading ladies. “What they bring to the room, they totally bring themselves and their 20th-century sensibilities. I’m a millennial, I’m 30, we’re all in the same age range. The youngest is 25 and the oldest is 33.
“The [characters], they age from 10 years old to 35. And it’s really been exciting to see these adult women, travel back in time and play these characters. I know, from my autobiographical shows, the range of the characters I am able to play, with no costume changes, and I wanted to see how [these] skills would translate to other people, not a solo show.”
Porkalob shared directing responsibilities with the show’s musical director, Andrew Pang, whom she hadn’t worked with prior to “7th and Jackson,” but had been watching and admiring for a long time. She praises Pang’s ability to dovetail with her own sensibilities, especially concerning the historical aspects of her story.
As for the music itself, which includes vintage hits from the Andrews Sisters, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and others, the writer/director comments that the lyrics had to intersect with the story.
“The musical history is just so rich, so it was finding the right songs and it took some time, and I had to trust my intuition,” concluded Porklob. “I had to think about how this is going to translate into a three-part harmony, act as a metaphorical statement. What does this song mean, when we look at it from the perspective of this character, versus that character. I wish I could have more songs in the show!”
“7th and Jackson” plays through Aug. 11 at Nordo’s Culinarium on 109 South Main Street in Seattle. Dinner is included with the cost of tickets. For prices, showtimes, and other information, visit cafenordo.com.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.