Esparza Photos by Joan Marcus
by Arney Rosenblat
running at the MCC Theatre on West 52nd Street, Seared is a cautionary
tale of what can happen when the art and commerce of cooking collide.
first thing the audience notices upon entering the theater house is that they
have a front row seat to an actual working restaurant kitchen, with gas
burners, running water and sharp knives which has the potential of being the
domain for a meal or perhaps a life altering culinary experience depending on
the chef at its core. The creative force at the heart of this kitchen is
Harry, an over-bearing, self- righteous man-child genius
perfectly embodied by Raul Esparza.
a part of this restaurant domain is Harry's partner Mike, an empathetic,
reality-grounded David Mason, whose financial investment and commitment to
details have kept this small 16-seat Brooklyn restaurant afloat for two
and a half years allowing Harry his flights of creative genius. The link
between kitchen and patrons and the salve between the conflicting personalities
of Harry and Mike is their waiter and jack-of-all-trades Rodney, a pragmatic
and amiable W. Tre Davis, who in a pinch ultimately reveals that he really
knows how to step up to the plate.
the restaurant finally catches a break in the form of a positive nod from New
York Magazine for a scallop dish Harry created, Mike believes they are at last
out of the woods. That is until Harry adamantly and arbitrarily refuses
to prepare the scallops ever again despite the flood of customers drawn to
their establishment for the dish, though Harry does still manage to distract
and satisfy most of their customers with other tasty entrees smoothly delivered
by Rodney. "I'm not feeling the scallops," advises Harry
reacting in part to the fact that he doesn't see how he can obtain the quality
ingredients needed in the volume required to make it a signature dish at the
restaurant and in part to the fact he has a self-destructive streak.
an effort to save the restaurant (and his sanity), Mike hires Emily, a
consultant and publicist, who he actually encounters in the restaurant enjoying
Harry's offerings of the night. Krysta Rodriguez is flawless in the
role. With just the right blend of consultant speak and sincerity, she
manages to secure buy-in as well from Harry for her efforts to enhance the
restaurant's profile and profitability.
of his ear-shot, however, Emily shrewdly assesses Harry's persona and the
challenges ahead of her, " Every reasonably talented guy out there has
been told he's a fucking genius at some point in his life and...they all
believe it and they've been believing it since they were four which is
frankly when they stopped developing psychologically..that's not to say that
Harry isn't actually special: clearly I think he is, or I wouldn't be
here. But being special and knowing that you're special and also having
an attitude about the fact that you're so special -- that ultimately makes you
a little less special..."
is first-rate at her job. In no time, she's cut through bureaucratic red
tape to secure outdoor seating so as to expand restaurant capacity, created
industry buzz to build traffic, delivered a free set of top-of-the line
Japanese knives for Harry's use and even coaxed a modicum of increased
cooperation from Harry. However, when Emily manages to pull off a PR coup
by arranging a full restaurant review with a critic purported to be from The
New York Times Harry heads towards a melt-down.
to the expert pacing provided by director Moritz von Stuelpnagel (his skill
also made Hand to God one of the most biting and funny plays ever
produced), the frenetic activity of an authentic restaurant kitchen is
beautifully balanced with the singular creative culinary artistry that makes
that kitchen work while Tim Mackabee's scenic design likewise supports the
reality of this culinary world making the audience feel that we too can almost
taste the resulting dishes. Each of the characters also provide wonderfully
nuanced flourishes during the unfolding of the play such as Harry's nearly
orgasmic expression when he first uses the premier Japanese knives Emily
secured for him.
Theresa Rebeck's writing here offers little insight into why Harry, Mike, Emily
and Rodney are who they are, she has given the audience a group of
characters strong and interesting enough to hold our attention and spark our
curiosity as to how the entwining stories of this battling quartet will
resolve. In fact, I believe the essence of the play can be summed
up in an engaging scene which opens Act 2 wherein Harry in a virtual culinary
ballet sans dialogue amidst the sounds of a humming kitchen creates a new
signature dish of seared wild salmon with what is dubbed Bengali onion chutney
served with so-called fresh spring asparagus that Emily calls
"amazing" but Harry rules as "It's getting there."
Rebeck is a talented writer who has frequently explored the conflicts between
artistic expression, often tinged with self-indulgence, and commerce and
did so in consort with Mr. von Stuelpnagel most recently in her powerful 2018
the end, Seared is a parable which illustrates that in the real world
art and commerce must survive side by side and that no one, even the most
creative geniuses among us is indispensable.
Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space
West 52nd Street
time: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Date: December 22, 2019