Take a work by an award-winning playwright, add a liberal measure of perfectly paced direction, blend in the talents of four superb actors, season with a sprinkling of slightly dark humor, add a dash of San Francisco Playhouse magic, and you have a stage show of superlatives – the commissioned world premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s Seared.
This is Rebeck’s third play for Playhouse directors Bill English and Susi Damilano – the first having been The Scene in 2008 (which was adapted into a film, Seducing Charlie Barker) and, more recently, the Broadway hit, Seminar.
The action of Seared, the first Playhouse production of the new season, takes place in the kitchen of an intimate, upscale restaurant in Brooklyn. Bryan Dykstra (last seen at the Playhouse as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem) is Harry, the chef – a bit of a prima donna perhaps – but one who knows what he’s doing, happily immersing himself in his culinary creations, and brooking no interference from anyone at all, particularly when it comes to decisions about what will be served.
Mike (played by Rod Gnapp) who co-owns the restaurant with Harry, is the business brain, but he’s not entirely happy with the way things are going. Financially, the restaurant is on a downward slide, and he knows that something needs to be done to reverse this trend.
Rodney (Larry Powell) is the waiter – an engaging character, whose mocking, yet accurately targeted observations and asides indicate that he’s a whole lot smarter than he’s given credit for.
The deteriorating financial situation creates an air of simmering discontent beneath the genuine friendship shared by the two partners, and things in the kitchen reach boiling point when Mike – completely off his own bat – decides to hire a consultant to get the business back on track and make it more profitable, particularly since a rave review in a New York magazine has increased the popularity of the restaurant which has only a limited number of covers.
The consultant, Emily (Alex Sunderhaus) is absolutely typical of her type, her gushing stream of marketing speak rapidly becoming more bossy and more dictatorial, as her grip on power becomes ever more intense.
The basis of the plot reflects the kind of situation that can develop in any relationship – either personal or business – but what gives this production its bite is Theresa Rebeck’s skilful dialogue, Margarett Perry’s taut direction, and the superb performances of the cast. It’s fascinating in an edge-of-the-seat sort of way, and the element of suspense is maintained to the extent that you almost want to jump up and tell the characters what to do and say – particularly as Bill English’s set is impressively realistic, and the aroma of food actually being prepared onstage heightens the audience’s sense of involvement with the players.
Seared runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until November 12. For more information and tickets, visit www.sfplayhouse.org
Photographs by Jessica Palopoli