Theresa Rebeck’s Seared, currently playing at MCC Theater, should be required viewing for all students of the culinary arts, as well as all lovers of the theatrical arts. For the former it will act as a cautionary tale, and for the latter it will stand out as a beacon of the intersection of a truly inspired meeting of all the theater disciplines – writing, directing, stagecraft and acting. With the winners being the audience who get to enjoy an insightful, laugh-out-loud evening at the theater.
The stage has been turned into a small, operational restaurant kitchen, complete with gas burners, running water and sharp knives. This is the domain of genius chef Harry (Raúl Esparza) who, along with friend and investor/partner Mike (David Mason), have opened a small independent restaurant in Brooklyn that is struggling to survive. With only 16 seats, they have managed to beat the odds that say that 90% of independent restaurants fold within the first year of operation and have survived for two. But all of Mike’s money is gone, they’re operating on fumes, and Harry won’t compromise an iota on the quality of the ingredients and refuses to cook a consistent menu of dishes. Rounding out the staff is their one server and jack-of-all-trades, Rodney (W. Tré Davis), who is the mediating force between Harry and Mike.
When Seared opens, Harry, being the temperamental kitchen artiste that he is, is refusing to cook the scallop dish that got a favorable mention in New York Magazine’s “Best Bites” column because he doesn’t have fresh scallops. While Mike rants about how he is sabotaging them, Harry goes adeptly about preparing the orders that Rodney keeps rushing in with, including requests for the scallops, filling the theater with the smell of sautéing garlic and onions. Tip: don’t come hungry or you will be gnawing your fingers off.
The next morning, we discover this has been the breaking point for Mike. He has hired restaurant consultant Emily (Krysta Rodriguez) who he met when she ate at the restaurant the night before and approached him. He springs her on Harry who is rude and dismissive. But Emily is slick and formidable. She is the queen of consultant speak and manages to get a grudging yes from Harry.
The brilliance of Rebeck’s writing is that she creates a balanced view of the situation. There really aren’t any heroes or villains even if some of the characters act unbecomingly at times. Everybody’s right and nobody’s wrong. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where everybody is trying to survive.
Kudos has to go to director Moritz von Stuelpnagel for the unique pacing of the production which alternates between the frantic activity of the dinner rush, but also allows for lingering moments of contemplative solo cooking that give us a glimpse into the passion and artistry that go into an accomplished chef’s creative process. Tim Mackabee’s wonderfully realistic set makes it easy to become engrossed in what is happening on stage and adds to the believability of the wonderfully talented cast.
Raúl Esparza is the perfectly pompous and passionate chef who cannot and will not concede to practicality at any cost. David Mason gives an emotional and heart-breaking performance as the partner on the edge of collapse. W. Tré Davis has great timing and is absolutely hysterical in the role of the server who steps up to the plate. But for me, Krysta Rodriguez steals the show as the slick consultant Emily who is up to every trick and manages to almost always hang onto her self-control when faced with self-sabotaging Harry.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
"To perhaps distract from both the play’s mechanical construction — a looming critic’s visit upsets the restaurant’s shaky equilibrium; lessons are learned — the production by Moritz von Stuelpnagel goes all out on realism and energy."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Times
"Even if you're not familiar with Rebeck's feminist plays, chances are you'll figure out who's going to get served in the end. But like a comfortable neighborhood joint, it’s satisfying even if it isn’t surprising."
Raven Snook for Time Out New York
"Rebeck’s new comedy Seared, which opened Monday at Off Broadway’s MCC Theater, is all about a top chef who drives everyone around him nuts with his genius for preparing exquisite cuisine regardless of the monetary and emotional costs. Real chefs might disagree, but from the sound of seared wild salmon and boiling gnocchi on stage, Rebeck knows her way around a five-star kitchen right down to the most absurdly expensive Japanese knives."
Robert Hofler for The Wrap
"First seen last summer at Williamstown Theater Festival and now receiving its New York premiere at MCC Theater, Seared is a fast-paced workplace comedy that even non-foodies will find hilarious."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter