BWW Review: Jarrott Productions' SEMINAR Makes All the Write Moves
At one point in the film Amadeus, the Emperor tells Mozart the music he's composed has... well... "too many notes," to which Mozart replies, "there are just as many as are required." I think of this when I encounter Theresa Rebeck's work, whether I'm reading, directing or reviewing a script of hers. Are there too many words? There are certainly a lot. Having directed her work gives me some insight into just how much Rebeck's style bears on the lyricism and conversational tone of each character. Some of them have so very many words to provide, and Rebeck herself has said, of Leonard in SEMINAR in particular, that he wouldn't stop talking to her. Rebeck gives us talkers and thinkers; characters who have many things to say about the roles they inhabit in their particular worlds. Situation and story almost takes a back seat to the act of examination each character takes on of himself and/or others within the play, and in SEMINAR Rebeck examines the particular world inhabited by writers.
In Jarrott Productions' SEMINAR, we enter the theatre greeted by a gorgeous set by Michael Krauss, daringly painted stark white. No need to worry though, as his rule breaking decision is beautifully lit by Chris Conard. It's stunning really. A remarkably quick light change accompanied by Craig Brock's choice of Latin influenced drumming for each scene change reveals the cast in place like magic for the first scene. I am a sucker for this kind of precision and quality in a production. This sort of elegant simplicity leaves the work to the actors, and this cast is up to the task.
Here we're treated to four young aspiring writers who are present for a seminar on writing, a very expensive course to boot, provided by literary genius Leonard (no last name) who is an allegedly worthwhile mentor to these aspiring scribes. Douglas (Devin Finn) has the first line in this play, and from the very start we see what Alan Rickman, who originated the role of Leonard on Broadway, meant when he said, "Seems like normal conversation, but it's complex." It's one thing to roll "interiority" and "exteriority" around your tongue as Finn does, but another entirely to get the whole long sentence out and have it mean something conversationally. This is the complexity of how Rebeck writes. Finn does well with this, as do Brooks Laney as the nerdish Martin, Sarah Zeringue as the decidedly feminist Kate, and Regan Goins as the vampish Izzy. Enter Leonard (Colum Parke Morgan) their writing "coach," who manages to interpret not just the writings, but personalities, of his students by reading one sentence or two of their work. Like old fashioned coaches of lore, Leonard evokes his students by pushing buttons to manipulate emotions that ought to spark creativity, but as the story unfolds, it doesn't necessarily lead to success for everyone involved. As this ten week course in writing evolves, so do the relationships between its characters, and the realization of who they are. They are at once complex and one dimensional. They could in less capable hands (this production is directed with a nice polish by Bryan Bradford) become caricatures. In this production, they fall generally just on this side of likable. Rebeck has a wonderful ability to give us characters that don't immediately solicit our sympathy, and it's not always clear who to root for. However, to go further into the plot line here would be to introduces spoilers.
As mentioned before, director Bryan Bradford has given this production quite a polish and every cast member provides a performance of high caliber. Devin Finn's Douglas manages to be endearing despite his privilege and Sarah Zeringue gives Kate a believably fiery righteousness, even as she feigns sheepishness. Regan Goins plays Izzy with a solidly unapologetic authenticity and Colum Park Morgan is relentless as Leonard. It's Brooks Laney as Martin whose performance is the most pronounced here, perhaps because his character is the one most affected by the events in the story. Each of these actors and director Bradford make strong and effective choices. It might sound strange then, that I felt that some opportunities were missed in making this production just a little more rich and fun. A nudge in the direction of playing these writers with a little less realism and Leonard with a little more might have been interesting to watch as well. Why not, for the sake of increasing our interest, make these young aspiring writers a little bigger and Leonard less typical. Certainly, I could empathize with Leonard more if this were so. Nonetheless, this is a very well executed production, as has been every Jarrott Productions show I've had the privilege to see. My preferences should in no way be a deterrent. This is a show executed by each practitioner in such a professional fashion it's definitely worth its brisk, entertaining 90 minutes.
Directed by Bryan Bradford
Produced by Jarrott Productions
May 21-June 3
7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity St.
Info at jarrottproductions.com/seminar
90 minutes running time
Photo credit: Steve Williams