BWW Reviews: Actors Theatre's SEMINAR Is A Sizzling Class Act
Got a book in you? Want to be Jonathan Franzen or Joyce Carol Oates? Get rich writing the great American novel? Well, if you were willing to shell out $5000 for a 10-week seminar with a mercilessly critical self-absorbed icon of English lit and submit yourself to his ferocious critiques, you'd have a shot at determining your odds for a spot in the literary pantheon or in the inner circle of Hollywood screenwriting or as a ghost writer, or Hemingway forbid, as a might-have-been.
Such is the ordeal to which four aspirants ~ Kate (Kerry McCue), Douglas (Andy Cahoon), Martin (Will Hightower), and Izzy (Kim Richard) ~ submit themselves in Theresa Rebeck's Seminar, the opening production of Actors Theatre's 29th season.
In due course, lessons are to be learned about the power of the word, authentic talent, and personal integrity.
Smartly directed by Ron May, Seminar is one tightly knit, fast-paced, engaging, and provocative comedy of mixed manners and artistic insights. A solid ensemble delivers Rebeck's rapid fire dialogue with bristling conviction and energy.
Kate's living room is the firing range where the group's charismatic teacher, Leonard (David Barker), takes aim at their manuscripts and their egos. Barker is mesmerizing as he segues from Leonard's withering critiques of a word or a phrase to his self-absorbed reflections on his personal odyssey, indeed his descent, from noted academic and novelist to peripatetic journalist. Leonard is fierce, but surely there are demons that beset him.
The quartet of students who are the subjects of his predicates is a diverse lot. Kate, brandishing a feminist perspective, has been writing a short story in the style of Jane Austen. Douglas, who has actually sold some stories, is a pretentious sort opining on esoteric concepts of "exteriority and interiority." Izzy is...well, Izzy is available. Martin, however, is a kind of moral, albeit confused, conscience of the group, withholding his manuscript, uncertain about his talent, struggling with jealousy, self-doubt, and ambition.
Their anxieties and pretensions make them easy and vulnerable prey to Leonard's insatiable need for dominance. But, not all is as it seems, and therein lies the path to some surprising twists at play's end.
Seminar is a well-crafted production that will have you reflecting on its themes long after you've left the theatre and likely wanting to see it one more time.
Seminar runs through November 9th at the Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center.
Photo credit to John Groseclose