`Teatro Zinzanni': An Order Of Zany

-------------------- Entertainment review --------------------

"Teatro ZinZanni." One Reel at 222 Mercer St., Seattle. Thursday-Sunday through Jan. 17. $78. 206-281-7788.

In this dream you are living in a Fellini movie, watching a crazy circus from a ringside seat, and eating poached salmon at the Moulin Rouge - all at the same time. Suddenly a guy is tap-dancing on your table. Then a lady in a chicken suit starts clucking at you. Now somebody's playing "La Vie en Rose" on a saw!

Hey, this is no dream. This is "Teatro ZinZanni," the outrageous and unique evening of "Love, Chaos and Dinner" whipped up by those intrepid folks at One Reel - the same outfit that produces the Bumbershoot music festival every summer.

But "ZinZanni" is another kind of bash altogether. For this extended evening of zaniness inside a gussied-up 1920 show tent near the Seattle Center, put away your jeans, dust off your tux or cocktail dress and be sure you're not over your credit-card limit: The tariff is $78 per person for dinner (minus wine) and nonstop insanity.

It's actually worth it.

The four-course meal designed by Monique Barbeau, while certainly palatable, ain't nirvana. And the three-hour entertainment barrage has some dry spots, off and on. But with "Fool Moon" at the 5th Avenue and "Teatro ZinZanni" on Mercer, Seattle has lucked into a bonanza of the sort of timeless, rib-tickling clowning that gladdens the soul.

Entering the small lobby entryway to "ZinZanni," don't miss the Remmy Demmy on display. This picturesque mechanical music machine created by inventor Trimpin plays "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (among 23 other tunes), and it's mesmerizing.

The funky-elegant main-show tent (evocatively named Palais Nostalgique) holds 250 people and sports carved wooden booths, red-velvet drapings, rough-planked floors.

Dinner gets served slowly and (as promised) chaotically. Before you eat a forkful, expect to be accosted by a pack of highly eccentric performer-staffers dashing about with plates and glasses, feuding and flirting. Ignore them at your peril: audience participation at "ZinZanni" is not optional. Everything happens within spritzing distance of your lap - including a lot of spritzing.

It's best to sit back, munch antipasto and take in the lusty, touchy-feely proprietress, Madame ZinZanni (Doloreze Leonard), and Dick Nimby (Wayne Doba), local crank and tap-dancer extraordinaire.

Also keep your eye on the antics of magician-maitre'd Voronin, a superbly stoic Russian elegante who looks like Rudolf Nureyev and slinks around like Count Dracula. And Josep Ventura, the saw maestro with erupting hair. And Zaza, the gnomish sous chef, the waitress Marceline Kahn (who almost sucks her face off with a vacuum cleaner), and the winsome gamine dishwasher, Nathalie Tarlet.

Denis Lacombe (formerly of Cirque du Soleil) reprises his maniacal symphony conductor act, one of the most hysterically funny shticks ever. Sexy acrobat Aurelia Cats pretzels herself while dangling from a trapeze. And Seattle's popular Kevin Kent (a k a Sister Windy) nearly swipes the show as a chef who can switch from Baptist preacher mode to Dame Edna-style drag in a sashay.

Director Arne Zaslove choreographs this commedia madness well. Norman Durkee's band backs it up pleasingly with a pastiche of '20s-style sounds. But I'd re-think the overwrought, over-miked torch singing by Ann Wilson and aria-trilling by diva Anna Strazacich. A little goes far, especially on a full stomach.