Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater, the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space
511 West 52nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 22, $66-$96
Theresa Rebeck heats up MCC’s Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater with the East Coast premiere of the sizzling hot Seared. The very tasty show is set in the cramped kitchen of a small Park Slope restaurant that is seeing a lightning-fast rise in clientele following a New York magazine rave about its scallop dish. But chef Harry (Raúl Esparza), who co-owns the eatery with his best friend, Mike (David Mason), who handles the front of the house and the business side, refuses to ever make those scallops again, resisting the pressure to become a star linked to just one specific entrée. “All my food is good,” he tells server and sometimes sous chef Rodney (W. Tré Davis). Arguing about the critic’s review, Rodney says, “He called you a hidden jewel, Harry,” to which Harry responds, “What’s a hidden jewel?” Rodney: “You know what a hidden jewel is.” Harry: “I know what an idiot is, too.”
On the heels of their burgeoning success, Harry and Mike are visited by Emily Lowes (Krysta Rodriguez), an impeccably dressed young consultant who wants to work with the restaurant to take it to the next level. While Mike is fully in favor of bringing her in, explaining that a potential rent increase could shut them down, Harry is dead-set against even listening to her initial proposal. “She’d like to help us,” Mike says. “Do we need help?” Harry replies sharply. A moment later, an ever-angrier Harry says, “Wow. You help people get what they want?” Emily answers, “I do.” Harry responds dismissively, “Yeah, but the problem is, I have what I want. So I don’t need anybody to help me get what I want. Sorry.” Then Mike chimes in, “I don’t have what I want. Let me get you a seat, Emily.” Their disagreement grows more heated as Mike begins to implement some of Emily’s ideas and Harry boils over in frustration while still insisting to not make the scallops, as scallop orders roll in from customer after customer.
Despite there being nothing particularly new about the plot itself, which is like standard diner fare, Rebeck (Downstairs, Seminar) and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Hand to God, Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet) transform the top-notch ingredients into a hidden jewel, a thoroughly satisfying and full-bodied two-act meal that incorporates the sights, sounds, and smells of a New York City restaurant — Harry almost always has something cooking on the stove, taunting the audience’s taste buds from Tim Mackabee’s deliciously cramped set. Four-time Tony nominee Esparza (Company, Speed-the-Plow) is robust and spicy as the mercurial and demanding Harry, a masterful chef who has issues with fame and prosperity, while Mason (Rebeck’s The Nest and Dig) has just the right chops as Mike to stand up to the hotheaded Harry. Davis (Carnaval, Zooman and the Sign) is sweet and savory as the Zen-like Rodney, and Rodriguez (Hercules, What We’re Up Against) is tangy and zestful as the piquant Emily. Yes, I might be running out of culinary references, but Seared continues to tempt my palate, for high-quality food as well as high-quality theater.