Seminar

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    November 1, 2011

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    This is not Six Characters in Search of an Author. This is more Four Authors in Search of a Character. Four people in their 20’s or 30’s are assembled and waiting, waiting for their writing seminar leader, Leonard, to arrive. These are, from what I can tell, aspiring writers for the most part. Only Douglas (Jerry O’Connell) seems to have any credits – he is a devotee of the writing colony and will only go to MacDowell or Yaddo. With every other colony “The flavor of desperation is really not to be believed.” These four, Martin (Hamish Linklater), Izzy (Hettienne Park) and Kate (Lily Rabe) share a certain flavor of pretension that is charming and somewhat embarrassing all at once. But their pretenses wither in the glare of Leonard’s headlights, which are permanently in the high beam position.

    Leonard was once a well-known novelist but has become an editor and instructor. His advice to writers seeking it is, “Listen to me. Don’t defend yourself. If you’re defending yourself you’re not listening.” Leonard for all intents and purposes loves nothing quite so much as the sound of his own voice. And when that voice is Alan Rickman, most of us are in complete agreement with that idea.

    As far as a plot goes, this one is predicable. Leonard chews people up and spits them out like gristle. When these folk rise to each other’s defense he tells them, “…you wouldn’t think the story was so great if it were really any good. If it were really good? You’d fucking hate it.” Leonard’s M.O. is divide and conquer. With this group it is no trouble at all. But in a sort of gracious twist, as each person is put through the wringer by Leonard, they all squirm.

    What works here are the characters of the four classmates. Izzy is a straightforward cutthroat who will do what it takes to get to the top. Kate is a woman faced with figuring out how to let go of the banal writing she has produced under the guise of it being “not bad” and take the leap into the unknown. Douglas will never be a great writer, but he could make gobs of money from being adequate. Martin could very well be the real deal, unless he chooses to duck and cover instead. While Leonard has a rage of viewpoints that run the gamut from A to B, it is the students who send up flares.

    The acting is stellar. Led by Rickman, these actors go through their paces without nary a glitch. These characters each have good points and bad and these actors let out all the stops to pull us in for a close examination of what makes these people tick.

    The direction is smooth without being uneventful. Gold makes the most of this slightly dull plot and gives it some chutzpah.

    This is a fine night indeed. Not great theatre, but good theatre. Under Gold’s direction, this cast delivers the goods and then some. This is a well-tuned ensemble that never goof each other or us. Well done.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "The creation of art is notoriously difficult to depict on stage (as in film), so leeway must be allowed those who would evoke this slow and tortuous process in a brief, digestible narrative. But “Seminar” seems to be almost nothing but shortcuts, and that includes the ways it defines and manipulates its characters."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Tangy but sometimes contrived comedy."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "You can overlook the formulaic plotting because the witty Rebeck hits plenty of bull’s-eyes, ... And with actors of this caliber delivering the goods, it’s easy to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Ironically, in this play about writers, we can see the writer's hand too clearly."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    "Stylish, witty comedy."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Tight, witty and consistently entertaining."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "Enormously entertaining."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Hollywood Reporter - Variety