If you are having a dinner party you might try to hire Raúl Esparza as your chef. As an actor, Esparza is cooking away in plain sight in the elaborate restaurant kitchen (designed by Tim Mackabee) in “Seared,” Theresa Rebeck’s play presented by MCC Theater and directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel. For quite a while in the opening we see Esparza as the inspired chef Harry actually cooking in real time, showing himself to be a master of slicing, dicing, mixing ingredients, heating his frying pan and going through the complications of preparing his dishes.
Of course, there has to be a story attached, and what we get is a picture of Harry aggravating Mike (David Mason), who has put up the money to finance the restaurant with Harry providing the cooking talent. There is an early crisis. A rave review of Harry’s scallops has resulted in customers coming to seek those scallops. The problem is that Harry doesn’t want to make scallops anymore. Fancying himself as an artist, he just doesn’t want to be pigeonholed with the same old dish. He refuses to do the scallops, and that becomes a running gag and difficulty throughout the play.
Fearing business on the decline and financial problems, Mike brings into the picture Emily (Krysta Rodriguez) as a gung-ho consultant with promotional ideas. She and Harry inevitably clash, but plot-wise something else is inevitable.
“Seared” begins to wear thin after a while. However, Esparza is such a compelling actor that he makes temperamental Harry come alive. Mike and Emily pour on the emotions, and there is another character on whom to keep an eye--W. Tré Davis as the chef’s assistant Rodney, who will come into greater focus as the plot thickens. Emily has arranged for an important critic to come to the restaurant without telling Harry at first. The fate of the place is linked to this visit. Scallops anyone?
The dramatic fireworks that occur are a credibility stretch, but by that time one has been caught up in the dynamics of the relationships and Esparza’s solid acting, plus all of the visual hoopla in the kitchen, and one can have enjoyed Rebeck’s unusual, visually realistic play. At the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 West 52nd Street. Reviewed October 29, 2019.