Rebeck Play "Seared" Review - Opens SF Playhouse's 14th Season

October 1, 2016 - San Francisco, California, USA – The San Francisco Playhouse was the site of playwright, novelist, and television writer Theresa Rebeck's World Premiere of “Seared,” an amusing and very realistic look at the chemistry as well as the cookery behind the scenes of a “fancy” restaurant with growing pains. “Seared” is a commissioned opener for SF Playhouse's fourteenth season, and the house describes the work as exploring “the tension between following your dream and cashing in for success.”

Chef Harry (Brian Dykstra) cooks up something special

“We create theater to tell stories that enhance our understanding of being alive in our time,” SF Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English said as he welcomed the audience to their “Empathy Gym.” (More on this below). “The plays we have selected for our new season all tell stories of people who experience a transformation. They have their beliefs challenged and are inspired to question their own identity and their place in the community.”

 

Seared” is set in the kitchen- the place, we as consumers, are told, we must never enter so as not to see the ugly reality of what takes place in the dark “back” of the house of our favorite eatery in order to make the front of the house shine. The work tells the story of two business partners, owner Mike and chef Harry, who come to loggerheads when a unilateral decision is made to bring in an outside consultant to make improvements and increase cash flow.

Consultant Emily (Alex Sunderhaus) takes the scene- and takes over!

Sizzling well under the direction of Margarett Perry, and with an investment via commission involving a very sweet triad of lead actor, Brian Dykstra (playing the chef), director Perry, and playwright Rebeck, the play, as English describes it, “transposes the classic American story of the artist battling the corporation to the world of cooking.”

Chef Harry and restaurant business partner Mike (Rod Gnapp) have it out over the "surprise"

In Rebeck's set-up, “Harry” (played by Dykstra) a chef with very high standards for food quality (a source of both tension and comedy throughout the work, is surprised and shocked when his long-time business partner “Mike” (played by Rod Gnapp) decides to bring an outside business consultant into the mix. Consultant “Emily,” played with the perfect mix of smugness and sauce by Alex Sunderhause, is a perky instigator rather than a loving coach--- to the point of upset beyond the stage. Emily is such a constant source of aggravation, agitation, and at times, altercation with chef Harry, that we instantly dislike her. That's when the fun begins. Add to this the fact that this character seems hell-bent on proving she has the world wrapped around her finger as she stomps on it with her high heels, and we can see a beautiful beginning for future incendiary set-ups.  Add to this the frequently (delightful) scene-stealing character "Rodney," hard-working, ever loyal server (played brilliantly by Larry Powell) who becomes, effectively, a sort of a "chew toy" between the two men- but who also serves up a special kind of wisdom- and we have the makings for a truly great romp.

Emily trying again to take over by cooking something up

Dykstra's lines as well as his gestures, facial expressions and overall “likeable-ness” quickly earn audience sympathy to his creativity as well as sensitivity; we become attached and invested in his well-being, particularly as “consultant” Emily begins to abuse the power in her position by tag-teaming with business partner, Mike. Watching the dissolution of a long-time friendship and business relationship is painful, even from a distance. Without giving too much more away, we do have the satisfaction of watching this particular character have a “taste of her own medicine,” however the result of the other “relational challenges” shall be left to viewers to decide!

Chef Harry sidekick, Rodney, stuck between two bosses

The actors have a good chemistry, so much so that we are actually surprised- although should not have been- when an argument between Chef Harry and Emily seems to take on a feeling of “I hate you so much I love you.” An interesting moment: the tension is real, the anger is palpable- but so is the possibility of something else arising out of something we couldn't ever imagine. It is at this point that we might say we can see the future of this play beyond its staging here, as one other reviewer, Richard Connema of talkinbroadway.com suggested when I asked for his thoughts: “television show.”

All scenes inSearedare set in Chef Harry's kitchen, the back of the house that is, traditionally, ruled by the chef. We, as audience, feel as if we are in that kitchen, what with working sinks with running water attached to both sides of the stage as well as a working stove and exhaust hood that creates a flow of cooking aromas that both intrigues and also causes actual hunger. Hint: eat before coming to the show.

 

If theSF Playhouse's smallish venue in the Walter Casper Teufel Jr. Auditorium might have seemed in any way in lack size-wise, the company's new, larger home more than makes up for it with its elegant balcony seating and, for this particular performance, its clever, authentic set, lighting, and even “food presence.” The aromas of food cooking on the stove would drive anyone even the slightest bit hungry to wish to go and visit Farallon right next door. In fact, two guests attending press opening night said they'd be coming back to see the play again the following Saturday night and would be sampling Farallon's exclusive “Seared Specials” beforehand.

 

Production Sponsors included Andrew Teufel, as “Executive Producer.” Beth and Fred Karren, Gail and Arne Wagner, and Dana and Gary Wagner (who was out awfully late the night before a huge work event the next morning...) were “Producers”. Cynthia and David Bogolub, Andre Chenoweth, Kay and Harry Rabin, Mary and Tom Foote, Leslie Karren, Phyllis and Jerry Rosenberg, and Bob and Loni Dantzler (who told me she “could not wait until her son (who owns a restaurant) could see the play), were “Associate Producers”. Artistic Underwriters included Mike Smith (Scenic Design),Joan Rost (Costume Design), and Joan Eckart (Properties Design).

Searedruns about 2 hours with one intermission and is well worth the modest investment of the ticket price. However do be aware that, along with the humor there was also much confrontation, argument, and also profanity. While the play is bright, the actors have a fine chemistry, there is plenty of great humor, and the set pulls the viewer in with its story, setting, and even heady cooking aromas, the “F” word can seem to prevail. That not withstanding, we will be looking forSearedon the tube- or even in the cinema- since, as we understand it, arts philanthropistMaurice Kanbar is involved.Kanbar helped Rebeck bring the story in her play The Scene from stage to screen in Seducing Charlie Barker. We'll stay tuned and look forward to that... meanwhile enjoying the play.

 

©2016 Ariel J. Smythe

Production Photos Courtesy of Jessica Palopoli/San Francisco Playhouse

The Playwright: Theresa Rebeck's plays includeDead Accounts,Mauritius,The Scene,The Water's Edge,Loose Knit, The Family of Mann, Spike Heels, Bad Dates,The Butterfly Collection,Our House,The Understudy,View of the Dome,Omnium Gatherum(co-written and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2003)andPoor Behavior. She received the National Theatre Conference Award for The Family of Mann, and the William Inge New Voices Playwriting Award for The Bells. Rebeck is the creator of the television dramSmash. She has also written and produced for Canterbury's Law,Smith, Law & Order:Criminal Intent, andNYPD Blue. Her produced feature films include Harriet the Spy, Gossip, Sunday on the Rocks and Seducing Charlie Barker. She has received awards from the Mystery Writers of America (Edgar Award), the Writer's Guild of America Award for Television:Episodic Drama, the Hispanic Images Imagen Award, and the Peabody (all for NYPD Blue). Rebeck lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

The Company: founded by Bill English and Susi Damilano in 2003, San Francisco Playhouse has been described by the New York Times as “a company that stages some of the most consistently high-quality work around,” and deemed “ever adventurous” by the Bay Area News Group.

Seared” runs through November 12th at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco.

Tickets are on sale to the public now and can be obtained by calling the San Francisco Playhouse box office at 415/677-9596 or visiting the web site at the San Francisco Playhouse website.

 

Perfect Pairing:  Reservations for the public at Farallon may be made by calling 415/956-6969.

 

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