Review: SEMINAR is Snappy, Sassy, and Smart

By: Nov. 20, 2015
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Theresa Rebeck's ambitious comedy, SEMINAR tells the story of four young writers who learn that sometimes the truth hurts after they hire Leonard, a famous novelist to mentor them for a 10-week master class. Rebeck is best known as the creator of the beloved television series Smash, and previous theatre works that include Dead Accounts and Mauritius.

The original Broadway production of SEMINAR opened in 2011 starring Alan Rickman, with the likes of Jeff Goldblum and Justin Long joining the cast over its year-long run. Stewart Arnott directs this co-production between Mirvish and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre that stars Tom McCamus as Leonard, a hard-hitting and brutally honest writer whose harsh mentoring skills are anything but helpful. Andrea Houssin, Grace Lynn Kung, Nathan Howe and Ryan James Miller complete this powerhouse cast of Canadian talent as his pupils.

Set in present day New York, Leonard's writing seminars take place in Kate's (Andrea Houssin) Upper West Side apartment. The first victim to Leonard's harsh criticism, her spirits are crushed after her work is immediately shut down by Leonard's brutality. Houssin brings honesty and vulnerability to the role; her tenacity to continue and defend her work strikes a chord with the audience who cannot help but share in her defeat. McCamus continues his strike, criticizing and humiliating the works of his students who begin to question why they spent money for his mentorship in the first place.

Sexually-charged and eccentric Izzy, played by Grace Lynn Kung, brings tension to the table as she is caught in the middle of a sticky love triangle. Nathan Howe plays underdog Martin, whose timid personality leads him to holding back his ambition and talent. However, it is Ryan James Miller's portrayal of Douglas that hits all the right notes. The nephew of an esteemed playwright, Douglas' ego proceeds him and is the typical love-to-hate know-it-all who is often the grunt of the jokes within the group of students who mock his unnecessarily complicated vocabulary. Miller's comedic timing carries the show right from the first line, and his snappy remarks and charismatic personality keep the show moving.

The chemistry of the four students provides a solid foundation for Tom McCamus to shine. His powerful performance as Leonard is harsh, brutal and simply hilarious. As the plot unravels, Leonard's motivations become clear - though one can likely predict the trajectory of the plot as Rebeck's script falls victim to some typical clichés.

Regardless, the fast moving, one-act play is laced with snappy remarks, outrageously brutal comments and over-the-top comebacks. A beautiful set design, top-notch cast and a fast-moving plot all add up to a smart and intense play.

SEMINAR is a part of the Off-Mirvish series and plays at the Panasonic Theatre until December 6, 2015. For tickets and more information visit


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