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Off Broadway Reviews

Seared

Theatre Review by David Hurst - October 28, 2019


Raúl Esparza
Photo by Joan Marcus
Originally commissioned and produced by San Francisco Playhouse in 2016, Theresa Rebeck's whip-smart restaurant comedy, Seared, is making its Off-Broadway debut at MCC Theater in a terrific production starring a sensational Raúl Esparza as a gifted chef who may be his own worst enemy. This same production (with two cast changes) was seen at Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer with the same director, Moritz von Stuelpnagel, and the same expert design team, notably set designer Tim Mackabee, whose gleaming, functional kitchen is virtually a fifth character in Rebeck's drama.

Seared is the "art vs. commerce" story of mercurial chef Harry, Esparza at the top of his game, and his business partner Mike, a spot-on David Mason, who, for the last two and half years, have poured their lives into a 16-seat restaurant in Brooklyn. Miraculously, their eatery has just received a small Best Bets mention in New York Magazine (for Harry's life-changing scallops), and prosperity, not to mention recouping Mike's financial investment, appears within reach. But Harry is a prima donna who doesn't like change or expectations or directives, and a clash of business philosophy rears its ugly head in the form of Emily, a food services consultant with an agenda of her own, whom Mike has invited to make improvements in their bistro in hopes of monopolizing on their moment in the spotlight. But Harry refuses to make his now famous scallops and resists the changes Emily proposes. Mike is at his wits' end and their loyal waiter Rodney, a superb W. Tré Davis, finds himself caught in a triangle of wills not of his own making. How will it end?

Rebeck, a prolific playwright with more hits than misses (she and von Stuelpnagel recently collaborated on the wan Bernhardt/Hamlet at the Roundabout), is firing on all cylinders with Seared. The kitchen dialogue flies fast and furious and it has the ring of authenticity thanks to the skill and timing of its four actors and von Stuelpnagel's clean direction and unfussy staging. New York City is a restaurant town and more than one actor (and, undoubtedly, a playwright or two) has spent time waiting tables or working in kitchens. Between The Food Network and a plethora of cooking shows, audiences are obsessed with food, cooking and eating, and Seared plays beautifully into all of our obsessions.

Esparza has clearly spent time with a professional chef learning to handle cutlery and he's always confident, if not always effortless, in the way he swans around Mackabee's functioning kitchen. There's a set piece at the top of act two in which Esparza is executing a new variation on a wild salmon entree that's a dazzling bit of stage business. Much like Rebeck's sizzling comedy itself, Harry whips up a tasty dish even if it has a gasp-inducing, heartbreaking ending. Bon appetit!


Seared
Through December 1, 2019
MCC Theater, Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 W 52 Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule at mcctheater.org


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