By Lucy Komisar
On the menu of this clever, succulent play are the characters who make up the back of a boutique restaurant in Park Slope, a trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn where playwright Theresa Rebeck lives. Director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel makes them all eminently real, albeit somewhat New York neurotic in their own ways.
Harry the chef (the terrific Raul Esparza) is a fanatical purist. He refuses to use scallops from Key Foods even when it‘s a dish that has just been touted in New York Magazine, which called him a “hidden jewel,” and he doesn‘t have enough to feed demanding patrons.
Rodney (W. Tré Davis), the waiter, patiently does what he is told, as people in that position must. Though he looks to have smarts above that station.
Mike (David Mason), the co-owner and investor, is a rather uptight fellow, understandably because the two-and-a-half-year old restaurant is going broke, they expect the rent to go up (as it does all over New York) and they could lose everything.
There are some internal problems that reflect reality. Harry discovers that Mike has been cheating the staff. He is furious, “Have you been stealing Rodney‘s tips?”
Who should arrive but the magical “consultant,” Emily (the pitch perfect Krysta Rodriguez), who gushes about the restaurant and turns out to have been surreptitiously hired by Mike to capitalize on the good press.
She is a modish lady in a pale pink jacket, black dress or jeans, but always heels, who is good at smiling and quietly manipulating them all. Emily, the marketer, wants to “make their world bigger” so they don‘t fight over resources.
The excellent Rodriguez portrays Emily as exuberant, almost like a faith healer, but that is what marketers are, right? She is the ingredient that sets off Harry‘s short fuse and makes the play fizz.
Money again has a bad effect. Chefs believe they are geniuses and disdain commercial constraints.
Harry tells Mike, “The memory of your money from two years ago owns everything, in this equation, it at least owns your imagination because what else is she doing here?
The imagined future where more imagined money is more real to you than the most essential–a human being, the eye, the hand, a glass of wine, friendship, the belief in in making something real out of–You‘d give all this up for money?
And not even very much money? Capitalism? You‘d give this up for some fucked up American idea that money is GOOD?”
Beyond financial, cooking, of course, is sensual. It leads to a connection between Harry and Emily, which sparks some tension between Emily and Mike. “Are you sleeping with Harry?” he asks. “Not at the moment. I‘m not suing anyone for sexual harassment,” she replies.
All occurs in a brilliant set by Tim Mackabee. You could kill for that kitchen of steel stove and pots, pans hanging from the ceiling, a fridge with glass door, a double-topped work table. To the side are shelves and stacked wine cartons.
And in the midst of everything, Harry in his white chef‘s jacket prepares the diners‘ orders. It‘s like a cooking lesson to watch him furiously slice and dice, scatter bits of chopped pepper, throw on capers, sprinkle oil. The background is jazz, in case you miss a beat.
Rebeck must have spent time in some restaurant kitchens. What happens when you run out of wild salmon? According to Emily, you get farmed. Harry is outraged. But she is taking over, accuses him of being self-destructive, tells him critics could make him a destination.”
Fortunately, Rodney turns out to have skills at preparing scallops and gnocchi. Money and pleasing the patrons always win. So will the audience. Though watching the characters taste the real seared salmon makes one wish to be at one of the boutique‘s unseen tables.
“Seared.” Written by Theresa Rebeck; directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel. Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 W 52nd St., NYC. 212-727-7722. Opened Oct. 28, 2019; closes Dec. 22, 2019. Running time 2:15. 12/7/2019. Also on NY Theatre Wire.