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3/26/12

Seminar a.k.a Theresa Rebeck's Actual Smash Hit

Seminar, still playing at the John Golden Theatre, is about to have some cast swap outs next week and I am excited to revisit the show when the replacements, which include Jeff Goldblum and Justin Long, get to put their mark on the show’s run.

Oh, and the show itself is great too. Can’t forget to mention that…

Written by Theresa Rebeck (the executive producer of Smash), Seminar debuted back in November. Since it did not close after four performances, clearly I am not alone in thinking this show is a worthwhile time out on The Great White Way. Comical and surprisingly deep, Seminar knows how to bring alive an interesting character study revolved around the art form of writing.

"No, I will not use my magic on you. But
you should not fear me any less..."
You don’t have to be a writer to understand what the characters are going through or even to relate to them...the show is so well-made, it takes care of that for you by bringing you into their world. In fact, I am a writer and Seminar still managed to instill some conclusions and commentary on the writing community that I would not have arrived at myself. Man…had I saw this show almost a two years ago, I may have rethought the idea to start this blog.

Why? Well, Seminar takes a more ostensibly cynical approach to writing in the last three to four decades, as told through this elite, $5000 tuition writing course taught by literary mainstay Leonard (Alan Rickman). Hauled up in Kate’s (Lily Rabe) GORGEOUS New York loft with three of her peers, Martin (Hamish Linklater), Izzy (Hetienne Park) and Douglas (Jerry O’Connell), Leonard hosts a session once a week where he throws witty remarks and shade at his students writings (or attempts at writing) as means of preparing them for what lies in their future.

But the show, quite deftly, does not revolve around the cynicism of a craft filled with a lot of personalities and ethical dilemmas. It’s moreso an examination of human nature, a writer injecting him/herself into their pieces, the writer serving as the piece themselves and how well he/she can handle criticism. In short, the show is comparable to an engaging, writers boot camp to test identity perception and self-assurance in an industry that suggests egocentrism and is only for the strong-willed. Out of this tense environment breeds some laugh-out-loud moments, but a surprising sense of pacing and urgency watching the students stumble around trying to make sense of themselves, what they are trying to say as a writer and what they hope to achieve in their careers.

Rebeck’s script is really thorough (and therefore, brilliant), like a case study to be presented for a panel. I wanted to start jotting notes about a third of the way through knowing I wanted to dig deeper through the script. The show works at even the most basic level, but peel back the layers…and it’s a reward for those who love their depth without some ostensible pretention. It’s a smart show that knows its smart, but maintains a levelheaded approach by means of the audience.

But it really is a bonus that blogging about this show only serves as a meta-reference that the show addresses head-on. What we write about is not just a projection of ourselves and what we want to convey, but what we don’t write about is just as relevant in the grand scheme…does it look like I am missing anything?

Lily Rabe is so over Professor Snape y'all.
Right…the acting. It would be impossible for me to address the ensemble without making mention of Sir Alan Rickman. Truth be told, because I am nothing but honest here at NRNW Central, I was not all that crazy about his performance. I say that only because Rickman seemed to be playing a more bitter version of himself. I think the man is brilliant and incredibly talented (Harry Potter series and Sweeney Todd: The Demon barber of Fleet Street fan checking in!), but nothing about his presence on stage looked like he really sunk his teeth into the role. A good job…but nothing revolutionary.

O’Connell’s Douglas was…kind of bleh. Playing the grandiose, schmoozer of the bunch, his character was, by far, the least interesting and O’Connell’s talents seemed marginalized. The same thing can be said for Park’s Izzy, even though she stopped the show, figuratively speaking, when she revealed her boobs early on to the audience. A lot of credit to her for doing that eight times a week and I liked the idea she was presenting; a statement about writers who are driven by impact and shock to build up their writing.

That leaves Linklater and Rabe to round out the ensemble. In my eyes, they carried a bulk of the show’s weight, Rabe especially. I love the girl and I thought she was phenomenal. Her Kate was an emotional mess deferring to ice cream when getting her work heavily slammed and openly venting her frustrations for both comedic and dramatic effect. I wanted to be best friends with her character and talk about writing all day. Heck, she even has some twists up her sleeve and a last-minute reveal to throw you for a curveball. A spoiled, white girl clich├ęd persona turned complex misanthropic, misunderstood character played by a wonderful actress can only breed someone worth following on a journey.

Linklater had this weird thing going on that I was not sure I was going to like, but I ultimately succumbed to. Playing a gun-shy writer unwilling to put himself out there, he conveyed Martin as this internally haphazard anti-socialist trying to cope with his lack of finances and writing in a world that is not his post-modern perspective on life. His character had a chip on his shoulder that was not always clear as to why. But by the show’s end; his apparent lack of control and understanding of his character seemed to be the character itself, just really well-portrayed by Linklater. Hmm…

Regardless, Seminar really clicked for me overall and most of that is due to Rebeck’s contributions. Even though Smash is returning for another season without her onboard, she can go cry into her hopeful Tony-nomination. As for me, I’ll just relish the fact that her presence is welcome in theater because what Seminar achieves during and in my takeaway from the show is far superior then anything she was going to put together slapdash on a mainstream television series.

Photo Credit: Broadway.com
Photo Credit: Stage Rush

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