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Off-Broadway Review: “Seared” in the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (Through Sunday December 22, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Seared” in the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (Through Sunday December 22, 2019)
By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Successful entrepreneurs like Harry (an overzealous but hypersensitive Raúl Esparza) typically attempt to guard their “art” from “commerce” for as long as possible. They feel frightened by the prospect of commercial success overwhelming their sense of artistic integrity. At least that is Harry’s point of view in Theresa Rebeck’s “Seared” currently running in the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space. With the financial backing of his friend Mike (an overly nervous and conspiring David Mason), the cantankerous chef Harry establishes a popular eatery in New York City that allows him to both satisfy his customers’ palates and his own creative spirit.

After receiving a rave review for his seared salmon, Harry must decide whether to include the dish (he really does not like cooking fish) as a regular choice on his restaurant’s menu. Certainly, his patrons want that salmon dish after the review, and his partner – explaining the establishment’s financial difficulties – wants Harry to sear the salmon regularly. The restaurant’s only waiter Rodney (a compassionate and resourceful W. Tré Davis) also believes Harry should bow to the successful review and prepare the salmon daily. Harry protests that the salmon that garnered the positive review is difficult to find and doesn’t want to bow to pressure from his patrons. They will eat what he chooses to cook.

“Seared’s” temperature heats up when, on the sly, Mike hires Emily (a provocative and gumptious Krysta Rodriguez) as a consultant to convince Harry it is time to expand his business which includes offering salmon on the menu – even if he has to settle for farm-raised salmon instead of the wild-caught salmon that won the food critic’s praise. Emily’s suggestions include almost doubling the seating, sponsoring Japanese cutlery manufactures, and – in short – becoming a better business partner for Mike by agreeing to all she suggests.

The bulk of the over-long play includes arguing, frequent screaming matches, a secret tryst, more arguing, all leading up to Harry walking out just after the arrival of the New York Times food critic. Rodney takes over and prepares the critic’s meal which garners the restaurant, and absent Harry, more accolades. Harry returns weeks later to a restaurant that is functioning quite nicely without him and everyone must decide how to move forward with Harry’s unexpected return.

Tim Mackabee’s set is a perfectly appointed commercial kitchen with a working stove. Under Moritz Von Stuelpnagel’s keen direction, the cast fills the kitchen with authentic and believable frenzy during dinner rush and with the same energy during “downtime” when the characters broker the restaurant’s future. Theresa Rebeck’s script raises rich questions about art and commerce and provides enough “moral ambiguity” to allow the audience to grapple with possible answers to those questions. Should Harry have left? Should Rodney take over the role of chef? Would it be more honest to just close the restaurant if Harry’s artistic choices could not have been met? Can art and commerce ever peacefully coexist?

Ms. Rebeck’s fine script serves as a tantalizing trope – here an extended metaphor – for the place art occupies in America’s commercial environment and for the future of all artistic endeavors in that milieu.


“Seared” stars W. Tré Davis, Raúl Esparza, David Mason, and Krysta Rodriguez.

The creative team for “Seared” includes set design by Tim Mackabee, costume design by Tilly Grimes, lighting design by David J. Weiner, sound design by Palmer Hefferan, prop supervision by Andrew Diaz, and casting by Telsey + Company; Adam Caldwell, CSA; Will Cantler, CSA; and Karyn Casl, CSA. The Production Stage Manager is Rachel Gross.

“Seared” runs in the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (511 West 52nd Street-between 10th and 11th Avenues) through Thursday December 26, 2019. For the full performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission.

Photo: Raúl Esparza, W. Tré Davis, Krysta Rodriguez, and David Mason. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, December 1, 2019