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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Typical of summer theater fare, Seared, Theresa Rebeck's tasty comic take on art versus commerce within the framework of the food industry closed its doors after just a couple of weeks. But, thanks to Rebeck's clever script, an economically sized cast and single set, Seared is likely to enjoy many other productions. Right now, it's reopened closer to the play's actual setting and the playwright's home (Brooklyn's Park Slope), in MCC's beautiful new home in the neighborhood still known as Hell's Kitchen, but now well on the way to being much more trendy (like Park Slope).
Everything's in place for the New York premiere of Seared to be a tastier than ever theatrical outing. Director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel and his Williamstown design team are still on board; so are its two secondary but vital characters, Emily and Rodney (Krysta Rodriguez and W. Tré Davis). As for the new Harry (the excellent Hoon Lee's more high profile replacement, Raél Esparza) and Mike (David Mason, replacing Michael Esper — who you CAN currently see in New York, as part of the Public Theater's new production of Tony Kushner's A Bright Room Called Day), you couldn't wish for better.
Atypical of his usual musical theater roles, Esparza will no more break into song than his Harry will dish up scallops to the customers seated at the restaurant's sixteen tables and lined up outside after seeing it called a hidden jewel in a New York Magazine blurb. But, oh boy, can Esparza, as culinary artist Harry cook!
Set designer Tim Macabee's finely detailed small restaurant kitchen fits perfectly on to the stage of MCC's intimate Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater. Like the WTF322 Nikos, its seats are raked so every seat has good sight lines. And, under Stuelpnagel's sharp and snappy direction, the original and new cast members' work together is smooth as the butter Harry uses so generously. And Rebeck's comedy is given every opportunity to make us laugh (we all need some laughter in these chaotic times).
Of course, Rebeck who is one of our most produced women playwrights (most recently on Broadway with Bernhardt/Hamlet), is too savvy not to season her comedy with some thematic issues that apply to all our lives — inter-personal, sociological, environmentally. Who can't recall cracks showing up a friendship, love relationship or business association? What New Yorker hasn't seen a favorite neighborhood restaurant shutter down because the rent went up again? Ask any server in a restaurant that is open, whether the fish is fresh and the answer is likely to be "fresh farm raised." So all the laughs notwithstanding, there are also glimpses for self-recognition and the unfunny reality we live in.
The play is crafted to quickly establish the New York Magazine plug as the device to set the comic contretemps between Harry, the temperamental chef and his more practical partner in motion. It also neatly plants the seed for Rodney, the waiter, as a go-between. The initial caustic back and forth between all three points to Harry as the central character. But, while we wouldn't have a play without Harry, it's the intertwined relationships — including the effect on the restaurant trio of Emily, the pushy outsider — that enable us to related to these characters, whether we know or care a lot about this kind of enterprise or not.
Esparza's Harry is a compelling presence. His slicing, searing and almost reverently adding finishing touches to his dishes is an amazing demonstration of an actor mastering the skills needed to fully inhabit his character. That said, however, this is an all star ensemble and when it comes to award time, this foursome should certainly top the list of ensemble performance award candidates.
Mason's Mike, though less hot-headed than his partner, does his share of yelling about his frustration with Harry's money be damned ways. As the partner whose money launched the enterprise and has to keep it going, that magazine is a big deal; a chance to avoid bankruptcy, especially with the help of Emily. With Kriysta Rodriguez, a vision in beige elegance (bravo costumer Tilly Grimes) breezing into that kitchen macbethcsc19to play her, you don't have to know exactly what she's up to know that she'll make it work. However, it would have been nice to learn just a bit more about how Mike made enough money to invest in the restaurant and how he and Harry met and struck up enough of a spark to go into business together.
If one actor could be said to be the show's big scene stealer, it's W. Tré Davis's Rodney. He not only has some of the funniest conversations with Harry but turns out not to be quite as pure and without agenda per his quoted statement at the top. But while he turns out to have an ego like the other characters — and like all of us in the audience — he is the one to bring the onstage chaos to a surprisingly touching ending.
To add to my bravos for the set and costume designers, shoutouts are also due to the way sound and lighting designers Palmer Heffernan and Davd Weiner have punctuated the scene changes. An extra bravo too for the way Director Stuelpnagel's has insured that all the yelling allows for Rebeck to wind things up more quietly and even a bit philosophically, with some terrific quiet scenes — notably, l the lengthy silent cooking scene at the top of the second act.
Though Seared is basically a lightweight comedy and as such should leave you with a happy ending. And it does, sort of, but even the clever Ms. Rebeck can't restock the seas with fresh scallops and help Harry and Mike survive unless they can add their touch of gourmet class to "fresh farm raised." Not that our current president would care whether the fish was fresh or wild since his idea of of a tasty meal is an environment be dammed, double burger served in one of his glitzy properties .
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a Seared by Theresa Rebeck
Directed Moritz von Stuelpnagel.
Cast: W. Tré Davis (Rodney), Raúl Esparza (Harry)a, David Mason(Mike) , and Krysta Rodriguez(Emily)
Scenic design by Tim Mackabee
Costume design by Tilly Grimes
Lighting design by David Weiner
Sound design by Palmer Hefferan.
Stage Manager is Rachel Gross.
Running Time: 2 hours, plus 15 minute intermission
MCC Theater Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater 511 West 52nd St
From 10/03/19; opening 10/28/19; closing 12/01/19.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 2/26/19 press preview
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