I’ve been following playwright Teresa Rebeck for a very long time, and I’ve always been impressed with her ability to create sparkling, cutting dialogue that actually gets to the heart of important issues with a truly provocative level of insight. The plays she wraps around this dialogue are of varying quality, but lately they’ve been quite good. Seminar continues that trend, taking us on a wild ride through the emotional lives of five writers.
Four aspiring young writers are accepted for a private seminar with Leonard (Alan Rickman), a respected novelist. He teaches them with ruthless, often unkind honesty, which also includes, under pressure, honesty about his own unethical behavior. Sex comes into play, but isn’t the thematic center of the play (at one point Leonard pushes the subject aside with something along the lines of “enough of the soap opera”). Gradually Martin (Hamish Linklater) emerges as the central character and his professional love/hate relationship with Leonard the spine of the play.
Rebeck is remarkable for the way she combines a realistic style with sharp-eyed satire (all her plays are satirical on some level). This is her most engaging comedy in quite some time; she is not immune to the occasional plot hole, but it’s all in the service of telling the often funny truth about the difficult, bruising life of a writer.
Rickman delivers his usual excellence as Leonard, portraying a man whose charisma and love for his craft more often than not overcome his genuinely heinous character flaws. Linklater is at the zenith of his geeky hotness here (particularly in one all-to-brief shirtless moment) and gives a detailed, appropriately twitchy performance that more than stands up to Rickman’s. Director Sam Gold, making his Broadway debut, connects with Rebeck’s hard edges and gives the play’s zing full reign.
If writers are important to you like they are to me – I’ve been working with them since I was 18 – then Seminar might be just the cup of sweet-tart poison for you.
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