“It’s my job to create beautiful food,” says Harry – a self-serving chef set on making culinary art, not money – in Theresa Rebeck’s Seared. “You can’t do that without the right ingredients.” Likewise, 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.
Raúl Esparza, a four-time Tony nominee, sports telltale tattoos and “Top Chef” talents as he leads the sublimely seasoned ensemble as Harry. The grating gourmet refuses to put his signature scallops on the menu at his snug Brooklyn bistro, whose tiny kitchen is rendered on stage in realistic working order. Too bad if New York Magazine hailed the dish. Top-grade mollusks are hard to find, and second-best won’t do. Mike (David Mason), Harry’s pal and business partner, insists that diners won’t know the difference and that the seafood is the cash cow the struggling eatery needs to survive. Enter Emily (Krysta Rodriguez), a wily, can-do consultant, who’s hired by Mike to help Harry see the light. Rebeck peppers her fast-moving story with food for thought about art versus commerce and friendships. W. Tre Davis completes the cast as Rodney, a perceptive waiter who turns the tables in more ways than one. Amid all the fancy chow, someone is going to eat crow.