Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Seared
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of Lempicka, Hand to God, The Chinese Lady and Hair


Michael Esper and Hoon Lee
Photo by Daniel Rader
Seared, on the Nikos Stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival through August 4th, is bitingly funny. A Theresa Rebeck play first staged in San Francisco in 2016, the rapidly paced dramedy finds four people battling to keep a Brooklyn-based restaurant solvent. It's about partnership, listening skills, cooking, art, commerce and friendship, too. Leaving the theater, audience members will ponder this people versus small business survival contest.

Harry (Hoon Lee) is a perfectionistic, obsessive, anti-capitalistic, volatile chef. His scallop specialty has been mentioned in New York Magazine and his partner Mike (Michael Esper) wants the chef to prepare large quantities of that very dish. Harry, however, judges scallops before he will toss them in a pan. Very few meet his approval. Hence, he proclaims that he is not about to prepare scallops. Even youthful Rodney (W. Tre Davis), the lone waiter in the joint, urges Harry to change his mind. Rodney reports to the kitchen that everyone's clamoring for the scallops. Harry will not budge.

Mike founded the restaurant with Harry two and a half years earlier. Mike will mingle with diners, find his way to the front door of the place, and beyond. He welcomes Emily (Krysta Rodriguez), a consultant who might live in a nice New York City neighborhood or in Westchester County just outside of the city or in Westport, Connecticut, or Montclair, New Jersey. She, with a nose for potential profit and surface charming demeanor, talks an excellent game. Emily knows how to double income. Harry is infuriated by her presence and recommendations.

Rebeck, author of The Understudy, Bad Dates, and television's "Smash," writes sharply and moves from one tension point to the next. She also injects quite a bit of comedy into her scripting and the four excellent actors let it fly. Moritz Von Stuelpnagel, directing, must be encouraging his performers to release. Yet their temperamental displays are not random and the production is very much under control. A free for all could be in the works but that never occurs. Instead, during the course of two hours, the director encourages Rebeck's snappy dialogue to drive the characters and the plot. The playwright is thoughtful and her route toward meaning is the blend of humor with accelerating drama.

Williamstown Theatre Festival is wise to have secured an actual New York City chef, Ben Liquet, for the purpose of tutoring Hoon Lee (who has admitted that he has limited cooking skills). Harry prepares dish after dish. He is often chopping and/or at the stove.

Questions: Will the eatery turn a corner? What about the now fragile camaraderie between Harry and Mike? Who, really, is Emily? After intermission, Seared hurtles toward the finish line but becomes more deliberate during final moments.

Lee, Esper, Davis, and Rodriguez, within the cramped back alley kitchen, lurch at one another. Tim Mackabee's set includes stainless steel appliances, sinks, a preparation table, and a refrigeration unit. The quarters are close and there isn't a lot of area for individual contemplation. It is very much Harry's space. He heats food in an old toaster oven and if anyone moves it, that individual will pay for the transgression.

Nothing is proffered about the lives of the characters outside of the restaurant. This contemporary play is ultimtely one which addresses each individual's motives. There is nary a stagnant moment or wasted gesture. Walking out of the theater, I wondered if Rebeck would write a sequel.

Seared, through August 4, 2018, on the Nikos Stage as part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown MA. For tickets, call 413-458-3253 or visit wtfestival.org.


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