SEARED – MCC

The dog-eat-dog theme gets an entertaining application to the restaurant business with some distinctively sprightly playwriting from Theresa Rebeck paired with equally robust direction by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel in “Seared”. Best friends, chef Harry (Raul Esparza) and investor Mike (David Mason), after two and half years struggling at a hole-in-the-wall Brooklyn location, are on the brink of success when their place ends up in “Best Bets” in New York Magazine; Harry wowed the food writer with his scallops. The trouble is Mike’s at the end of his rope financially and Harry, self-proclaimed l’artiste du cuisine, refuses to replicate what could be the scallops as a "signature dish.” Enter trouble, restaurant consultant Emily (played by understudy Jessica Digiovanni), to capitalize on the restaurant’s heaven-sent publicity. Rodney (W. Tre Davis), loyal wait staff and bottle washer, keeps his head down, until….

Most distinctive about the playwriting of Ms. Rebeck (loads of Broadway including “Bernhardt/Hamlet” and television) is not only how economically she introduces conflict but also how deftly she integrates character exposition with that conflict. Within minutes of the opening of “Seared”, hothead and prima donna Harry is on a collision course with the good-neighbor-Sam, down-to-earth Mark. Ms. Rebeck’ also has one of the best ears for dialogue of her craft, combining creative expression with street-wise vernacular. Professing his passion for food, Harry observes that there are an “infinite number of doors that are opened with butter”; later, when he pulls a tantrum on Mark, his screaming a simple “fuck you” couldn’t be apter.

The performances are all excellent, but Mr. Esparza deserves special kudos for incredibly precise movement and mastery of kitchen technique; he prepares - from prep to plating – over a dozen servings in the two-act, two-hour production. (Tim Mackabee’s detailed set design of the cramped kitchen is spot-on.) Mr. Esparza has always been known for the physicality of his performance; he’s put to the test in “Seared”. Kudos to understudy Ms. Digiovanni (in apparently her first public performance as Emily) who colors the part beyond ball-buster and femme fatale. (She recovered winningly, without breaking rhythm, when she spilled a dessert - actually charming both her colleagues on stage and director Stuelpnagel who sat a few seats away from me at this performance.)

Ms. Digiovanni and Mr. Esparza navigate as best they can a subplot of “Seared” that isn’t the story's strongest link. In a disarming plot twist, Harry gets pulled up short from the least expected source: he gets scolded “you won’t bow to your own talent’. “Seared’ shows that sometimes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

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