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Krysta Rodriguez talks about her fiery role in the new comedy Seared at MCC Theater
Although other characters Krysta Rodriguez has portrayed may have seemed more likable, the 35-year-old actress feels a kinship with Emily, the no-nonsense restaurant consultant she plays in Theresa Rebeck's new comedy Seared. "She is close to me in a lot of ways," admits Rodriguez. "She's a bright woman who is very ambitious, who sort of knew what she wanted to do early on and took it by the horns."
That certainly sounds like Rodriguez, who made her TV debut at age 11 (on the children's series Colby's Clubhouse) and landed her first Broadway gig at 20 (as an understudy for Good Vibrations). Since then, she's become a familiar face on both stage and screen, a veteran of six more Broadway musicals, most famously as Wednesday in The Addams Family, as well as portraying the love interest of the title character in the recent stage adaptation of Hercules.
Seared, directed by Tony nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel and currently running at MCC Theater, was inspired by Rebeck's favorite restaurant in her home neighborhood of Park Slope, which, though prized and popular, was unable to make a go of it. The four-character play revolves around Harry (portrayed by Raúl Esparza), a talented but mercurial chef who sees what he does as art. He bickers frequently with his business partner Mike (Dave Mason), and he's furious after he hires Emily so she can "focus their assets and their goals so that they can maximize their potential and get what they want."
To some theatregoers, Emily might initially come off as an evil yuppie. But that first impression is deceptive, Rodriguez says. "That's what's great about Theresa's work: She makes you think that this woman is going to be a problem, that she is about to thwart everything." But by the end, it's clear the playwright is commenting on how high-powered women are viewed in a male-dominated industry.
This is the second Rebeck play in which Rodriguez portrays this type of character. In WP Theater's 2017 production of What We're Up Against, she was an ambitious young architect trying to navigate the sexism of her male colleagues. In both shows, she gives as good as she gets.
"Thanks to Theresa, I get to get as dirty as the boys do," Rodriguez says. "That is a way more interesting place to be than the roles women got for a long time," which she says amounted to "being the smartest person in the room who stands in the corner and rolls her eyes at the men."
In Seared, the actors are surrounded by real food that they not only eat on stage, but also cook on Tim Mackabee's working industrial kitchen set. "You realize how difficult it is to run a restaurant and how many people it takes and sort of what a ballet it is to get everybody in and out," Rodriguez says, noting that she's never worked in an eatery. "I wouldn't be good at it; I would be a mess for sure!" But performing in the play has made her more aware of the industry and its similarities to her own. In both theatre and restaurants, "there's this very tense relationship between art and commerce," she says. "You cannot do your art if people do not see it."
Rodriguez originally made her name in musicals -- even her first big TV role, the "high-flying, day-drinking diva" Ana Vargas on NBC's Smash (which was created by Rebeck) was a Broadway baby. But over the past few years, she's been expanding into dramatic roles. Rebeck's What We're Up Against two years ago was the first play she ever did, and she's been getting a lot more TV work. In fact this week, she debuts as a witch named Ms. Crumble on Netflix's post-apocalyptic fantasy Daybreak.
But despite all those successes, Rodriguez is aware that making it in the entertainment industry -- just like in the restaurant business -- is a never-ending challenge. "You have to learn how to handle rejection," she says. "That is what 90 percent of your life is."
Jonathan Mandell is a drama critic and journalist based in New York. Visit his blog at NewYorkTheater.me or follow him on Twitter at @NewYorkTheater. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Raúl Esparza and Krysta Rodriguez in Seared. Photo by Joan Marcus.
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