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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

I'm not feeling the scallops!— Harry
Michael Esper and Hoon Lee. (Photo: Daniel Rader)
A great review becomes a catalyst for self-destruction in Williamstown Theatre Festival's extraordinarily explosive Seared. The Nikos Stage has been transformed into an authentic working restaurant kitchen through the magic of set designer Tim Mackabee and his minions. Amidst the visual culinary treat, Chef Harry's (Hoon Lee) temperamental outbursts accompany his actual preparations. Aromas waft off the stage of Harry's arena and combined with tantalizing descriptions of each dish prepared or planned, provide a feast for the palettes and noses of foodies.

This comedy/drama conveys the intensity of the food industry: investments, rent hikes, short-lived ingredients, long hours, demanding patrons—not to mention critical public judgments which can destroy the precarious enterprise. These realities take a toll on the humans who grind away in this powerful expose of conflicts which erupts in a pressure cooker environment.

Mike (Michael Esper) the money man, along with partner Harry has been in the business for two and a half years, but the inflow of finances has not kept up with the outflow. The thought of a rent increase has Mike on edge.

With bankruptcy looming, Mike decides to hire a consultant, Emily (Krysta Rodriguez) to analyze the restaurant's potential for expansion. Unfortunately, he has not conferred with Harry and the ensuing ego-fueled clashes heat up the kitchen; it becomes an ongoing brilliant verbal battleground between crass capitalism and high art. The fast-paced, humorous dialogue dazzles as the two extreme viewpoints threaten the partnership.

Mike is frustrated by Harry's refusal to acknowledge his fears. His respect for Harry's genius inspires Mike to accompany him to the fish market at dawn every morning to find acceptable scallops or salmon only to find that Harry's impossibly high demands reject everything. In spite of the fact that a New York magazine critic has written a short blurb praising Harry as a "hidden jewel" Harry balks at making the acclaimed scallop dish again. Even though the customers clamor for scallops in the 16-seat dining room, Harry refuses to budge on principle.

There are laughs aplenty as Mike and Harry argue their respective philosophies just a hairbreadth below actual physical altercation. Sometimes it is only the prep station that separates the warring combatants. In one masterly scene, as Harry quite deliberately fills the gnocchi pot with water, he stares Mike down while a palpable violence festers in the silence between them.

Mike and Harry are abetted in their ongoing conflict by Emily, an attractive manipulator who uses all of the right phraseology to convince them she has the skills to save their business. At one point Harry blurts out in angry awe,"Wow! That shit comes right out of you!" Her savvy connections, promotional skills and powers of persuasion begin to help quell some of the histrionics for a while. But as her plan pays off and the restaurant grows, the verbal sparring escalates. Rodney (W. Tre Davis), the only waiter says "She's like so annoying and then everyone does what she says." Rodriquez's sly flirting, hair flinging and fast talking flesh out Emily's sometimes not so subtle machinations.

Rodney (W. Tre Davis,) serves as counterpoint to the partners' extreme viewpoints. His is the voice of reason and his pragmatism—"I'm pure. I have no agenda"— ultimately perseveres. As the stress proves untenable for the partners, this loyal "everyman" evolves into a presence that enables Davis to utilize his considerable talents. He obviously has been alert for the last two and a half years in his lowly job. Unbeknownst to the high strung partners, he has absorbed the details and nuances of this complex dining art form. Davis as Rodney is the man with a moral compass.

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel choreographs his cast's movements to within a nano-second. Their thrusts and parries as they rush about preparing, serving and arguing, serve the comedic elements of the play with farcical timing. He allows silences to build and the excellent cast to internalize the emotions underneath them while the audience remains rapt with expectation.

Lighting by David Weiner captures the essence of each scene as does the sound design by Palmer Heffernan. Tilly Grimes's costumes, especially for the sexy Rodriquez, define the persona of each clearly limned character. A New York based chef, Ben Liquet, actually coached Hoon Lee to prepare food accurately with a speed accorded a true restaurant atmosphere.

This exceptional production of Rebeck's remarkable play deserves to continue in another venue after its run at the Nikos.

Make sure you have eaten prior to or have reservations immediately following Seared as there will be appetite for a meal and discussion that will need to be sated.

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Seared by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel
Cast: W. Tre Davis (Rodney) Michael Esper (Mike) Hoon Lee (Harry) Krysta Rodriguez (Emily)
Scenic Design: Tim Mackabee
Costume Design: Tilly Grimes
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Sound Design: Palmer Heffernan
Stage Manager: Hannah Sullivan
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission
Williamstown Theatre Festival, Nikos Stage, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Opening: 7/25/2018; Closing: 8/4/2018
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at August 1, 2018, performance

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