BWW Reviews: SEMINAR gets an 'A' at Beck Center for the Arts
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Theatre Critics)
When a student pays $5000 for a ten-week educational seminar, s/he doesn't expect to be verbally attacked, viciously belittled, diminished, called names, and have a sexual liaison with the instructor. But that's exactly what happens in Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck's provocative comedy, "Seminar," now on stage at Beck Center.
"Seminar," which takes place in present tense New York City, in a plush Upper West Side apartment, allows for a glimpse into the experiences of four young writers as they confront writing, language, and the art of creating meaningful prose.
The writing quartet includes Bennington-educated, defensive, prickly, women's activist, Kate, whose family owns the apartment; the preppy, pretentious Douglas, whose uncle is a famous playwright and spouts about "the exteriority and the interiority" of a writers' colony where he has spent time, and tries to impress by dropping terms like "postmodernism" and "magic realism;" the intense, possibly autistic Martin, who refuses to share his work with the others; and the sexy Izzy, who seems totally out of her element, but knows how to play the game of "get what I want."
And then there is their teacher, Leonard.
Leonard, the brilliant writer, who travels the world, edits major works of literature, and appears to be a vicious, maniacal destroyer of egos and dreams.
Leonard, who reads one story, up to the first semi-colon and dismisses it, even though it has been six years in the making.
Leonard who spouts such concepts as: "Writers aren't people," "It doesn't matter if there isn't a story," and "If you are not being honest, who gives a damn about what you are writing."
Leonard, who has a history the quartet didn't knew about.
Wars rage, sex happens, cruelty reigns, laugh after laugh erupts from the conflicts, and awe is inspired by what humans will endure, will pay for, to be destroyed.
And then, about two-thirds through the 95-minute play, comes a turning point, when the intellectual sadism abates and Leonard responds to a piece of writing he is handed with humility, awareness, and a hint of joy. Something that leaves us wondering if the "Leonard Method," is nothing short of teaching brilliance.
The play which opened on Broadway in November of 2011 and ran through May, 2012, has been called "an enriching study," " tight, witty and consistently entertaining," and "a play that, as the layers are peeled back, reveals both scarred humanity and the numbness beneath.
Beck's production, under the extremely creative and competent direction of Donald Carrier, is compelling. It is well staged, perfectly paced, and a creative tale of twists and turns.
The cast works as a well-tuned ensemble. Scott Plate seems to relish the role of Leonard, especially when he is annihilating his students by shredding their egos. His long tirades fascinate and chill. He puts on Leonard before his first entrance and wears him with conviction throughout.
Andrew Gombas gives Martin a persona of fragility and vulnerability, edging on the Asperger actions of social ineptitude, shyly on the edge, and being unable to hold consistent eye contact.
Brian Gale is perfectly Ivy-League uptight as Douglas, with an air of dazzle 'em with bullshit if you can't bowl them over with real talent. He moves, carries himself and appears designed for the part.
Lara Knox nicely textures Kate into a real rich girl, whose crush on Martin is obvious to everyone except Martin, and whose women's lib sensitivities are both real and a protective device.
Aily Roper displays the right believable sexual attitude to create a woman who we can believe manipulates men for her own designs.
Cameron Caley Michalak's set and Trad Burns lighting designs help develop the play's concept.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: "Seminar" is one of those special evenings of theatre: well written script, quality acting, perceptive direction! The show is filled with both laughter and message that makes it a must see for a perceptive audience!
"Seminar" is scheduled to run through June 29, 2014 at Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets call 216-521-2540 or go on-line to www.beckcenter.org