Review Roundup: SEARED Opens At MCC Theater - See What The Critics Are Saying!
MCC Theater presents the New York premiere of Seared by Pulitzer Prize finalist and two-time Emmy Award nominee Theresa Rebeck (Bernhardt/Hamlet), with direction by Tony Award nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel (MCC's Hand to God). For tickets and more information, please visit www.MCCTheater.org The cast stars W. Tré Davis ("Valor"), four-time Tony Award nominee Raúl Esparza (Company), David Mason (Trick or Treat), and Krysta Rodriguez (Spring Awakening).
The creative team for Seared includes scenic design by Tim Mackabee, costume design by Tilly Grimes, lighting design by David J. Weiner, sound design by Palmer Hefferan, and casting by Telsey + Company / Adam Caldwell, CSA, Will Cantler, CSA, Karyn Casl, CSA. The Production Stage Manager is Rachel Gross. Seared is a new fit-for-foodies comedy by critically-acclaimed playwright Theresa Rebeck (Bernhardt/Hamlet) directed by Tony nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel (MCC'sHand to God). Brilliant, hot-headed chef Harry scores a mention in a food magazine with his signature scallops, and his business partner Mike finally sees profits within reach. The only problem? Harry refuses to recreate his masterpiece for the masses. Mix in a shrewd restaurant consultant and a waiter with dreams of his own and it all goes to hell in this hilarious and insightful new play that asks us to consider where art ends and commerce begins. Audiences will be up close to the action as MCC's flexible Frankel Theater is transformed into the intimate kitchen of a New York City restaurant.
Read the reviews!
Elisabeth Vincentelli, The New York Times: Rebeck has often considered the tensions generated by art-making, ambition and money, whether it was the maneuvers of aspiring writers and their mentor in "Seminar," a stage manager's attempt to wrangle high-maintenance actors in "The Understudy," or the creation of a Broadway musical in the television series "Smash." Harry himself is not so different from the Sarah Bernhardt of her 2018 Broadway play "Bernhardt/Hamlet," both chafing against expectations and fueled by exalted chaos of their own making. But people's self-dramatizing behavior does not necessarily make them interesting. And for the most part, everybody in "Seared" motors forward on a straight track: You get a pretty clear idea of who they are very early on, and they behave accordingly the whole way through.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: It's a bit of a longshot, perhaps, but given the organization's tendency to honor less-than-traditional terpsichorean achievements, don't be too shocked if Raul Esparza is named as one of this season's Chita Rivera Award nominees as Outstanding Male Dancer in an Off-Broadway show. True, there's nary a twirl nor a ball-change to be found in his portrayal of Harry, the perfectionist chef for a boutique Brooklyn restaurant who gains a sudden shot of local fame after a brief mention of his divine expertise with scallops in a New York Magazine Best Bets blurb, but as the second act of Theresa Rebeck's comedy of art vs. commerce, Seared, commences, Esparza, backed by a cool jazz score supplied by sound designer Palmer Hefferan, takes full command of set designer Tim Mackabee's meticulously-realized and fully-functional kitchen, silently performing a kind of naturalistic ballet staged by director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, whose work with plays such as HAND TO GOD and TEENAGE DICK have proven his worth at interpreting life's non-traditional episodes.
Helen Shaw, Vulture: But despite that classic Rebeck tang-a readiness to rise to insults and to have arguments that turn suddenly into airy pronouncements about reality-Seared is actually quite a modest effort, content to be a forgettable little treat. It's repetitive and a tad empty, but what's the harm? Some people have arguments, farce breaks out, someone tells a man that he's got an overblown sense of his own genius. Bake that thing for 120 minutes, and it'll work for a lot of people's tastes.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Human triangles are created to leave somebody out. We see that dramatic formula at work right from the get-go, which is part of the fun. The other fun part is how Esparza and Mason match, if not exceed, Rodriguez's flamboyance in defending their respective characters' fiefdoms. Moritz von Stuelpnagel directs, and if there has been a more fired-up ensemble on the New York stage this year, I haven't seen it. Rebeck wrote three big roles, and this trio puffs them up into something even bigger.
Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: Foodies will certainly relish Seared and the way Rebeck describes food-all the ways to cook asparagus tips ("garlic, scallions, butter, heavy cream, sage leaves, rosemary, cracked pepper, butter, sugar snap peas, prosciutto, olive oil, basil, soy sauce, butter"), the "infinite number of doors which are opened with butter," the banality of snapper, the ridiculousness of flowery menu descriptions such as "seared salmon" with "Bengali onion chutney" and "fresh spring asparagus." But going back to Harry's description of his not-yet-signature salmon dish: "I'm saying it's good. It's a good start."
Michael Sommers, New York Stage Review: Seriously insubstantial in characterization and motivation-the entire Harry-Emily affair is illustrated almost entirely by a smooch-Rebeck's amusing though tenuous piece benefits from the realistic production directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, who spares little expense in providing a working kitchen to amplify the action. Designer Tim Mackabee's effective setting features a steel stove and sink that affords the actual sizzle and splash that the play itself tends to lack.
Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: That's not what happens in "Seared." Actually, not too much happens. There is some character development, a climax of sorts near the end and a couple of turns in the plot - one of which, given the hostility of Esparza's character towards Rodriguez's at the outset, should be predictable to anybody who's ever seen a modern American comedy. There's also a clear underlying theme of the tension between art and commerce. But plot, theme, and even character are not the specialties of the house. Two things count as the main draws. There is the rapid-fire dialogue, largely comic bickering, handled masterfully by the four actors, who are also adept at physical comedy. And then there is an unusual treat - the ballet of meal preparation that occurs right before our eyes (and our noses), using real food in Tim Mackabee's working kitchen of a set. Esparza either had a day job that we didn't know about, or he spent a lot time training with a real chef for this role. It is a surprisingly mesmerizing experience to witness the long wordless scene at the top of Act II in which Esparza meticulously prepares and cooks a wild salmon dish.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Theater News Online; It takes proper fixings for a play to hit the sweet spot and go down easy. Despite the fact that the author and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, who staged her Bernhardt/Hamlet on Broadway, crank the dramatic flame too high too often in the shout-y first act and leave key motivations a bit too murky, the two-hour two-act is a tangy and satisfying Off-Broadway main course at MCC Theater Space in association with the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where the play ran in 2018.
Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: Seared is not without its flaws, to be sure. The play lives up to its title by rarely getting more than surface deep. The characterizations are shallow at best, particularly the ambitious Emily who borders on stereotype and whose motivations remain oblique. The show could easily be cut by a half-hour, becoming repetitive in Act II as its characters too often engage in lengthy circular shouting matches. But the play remains very entertaining anyway, thanks to Rebeck's talent for fast and funny, profane dialogue. The widely produced playwright (Seminar, Mauritius, NBC's Smash) seems to have immersed herself in the restaurant world for this project, which benefits greatly from its detailed sense of authenticity. There's so much real food cooked onstage on Tim Mackabee's ultra-realistic set that you wind up feeling cheated when free samples aren't provided. (Although he's listed far down in the program's credits, "Chef Consultant" Ben Liquet deserves special kudos.)
Raven Snook, Time Out New York: There's not much food for thought in Seared. Its arguments are well-worn, although you've probably never heard people go at it over scallops so angrily or often. But Seared isn't about revelations. Comedy and comeuppance are what keep it cooking; director von Stuelpnagel smartly fires up the humor, and the actors add spice to their archetypical characters. And Esparza is especially tasty: Preparing meals on a working range onstage, he cooks with such passion and balletic precision that you understand why others have enabled Harry's ego for so long. Even if you're not familiar with Rebeck's feminist plays, chances are you'll figure out who's going to get served in the end. But like a comfortable neighborhood joint, it's satisfying even if it isn't surprising.