SF Playhouse’s ‘Seared’ a luscious, satisfying treat

San Francisco Playhouse just opened its new season with a world premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s “Seared” that’s so expertly acted and so empathetically directed (by Margarett Perry) that you’re likely to stagger out of the theater emotionally satiated—and hungry.

Set in the kitchen of a tiny boutique restaurant in New York (exquisitely detailed and realistic set by Bill English, right down to the pot steaming on the stove), the two-act comedy conjures an atmosphere that’s harried and ferocious as well as, at times, silent and intensely absorbing. The focus and the sense of timing, including overlapping dialogue, are impeccable throughout.

Chef Harry (Brian Dykstra, who might have been a chef in a previous life—or a madman) and investor-partner Mike (the invaluable Rod Gnapp) recently got a rave review that’s turned their quiet little “jewel box” into a destination.

The big draw: Harry’s mouth-watering scallops.

But loose-cannon Harry, who is all about being an artiste, and proclaims to not care about filthy lucre (“Money’s not real,” he trumpets. “Food is real!”), now refuses to cook that signature dish; he’s above pandering to the masses. “Nobody tells me what to do!” he says. (He tends to brandish his butcher knives a little too freely.)

Mike, though, knows that unless they expand the business, it won’t survive.

Server Rodney (Larry Powell) admires the genius chef, and ends up caught in the middle of an ongoing debate that rages between the two owners, in which scallops are a hilarious bone of contention.

Into the mix sashays a consultant, Emily (Alex Sunderhaus), whom Mike hired unilaterally and who promises to transform the restaurant’s moderate success into a huge triumph.

Naturally Harry hates her.

Dykstra turns Harry into a man you somehow simultaneously love and hate–even though, as Emily says, he’s self-aggrandizing and self-destructive. There’s simply not one false moment in Dykstra’s captivating portrayal.

Nor in anyone else’s.

What could have been a stock comedy with predictable, stereotypical characters (grouchy, rage-aholic cook, tough and ambitious businessman, youthful waiter, all male, and one perky, self-confident, sexy fix-it woman) and a formulaic conflict between art and commerce is instead insightful and even poignant.

That’s due to ensemble and director as well as to Rebeck’s sharp comic writing, wicked take on familiar contemporary situations and skill at creating complex and flawed humans.

Presented by San Francisco Playhouse
Where: 450 Post St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays. 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 12
Tickets: $20 to $125
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org