Last fall I received an email about a new play that was going into previews and seeing that Seminar starred Alan Rickman was all rtb, violaleeblue, and I needed to know to buy tickets.
Seminar is a comedy about a writing master class. Leonard (Rickman) is the teacher – a famous writer, who had written several brilliant novels when he was younger and then a scandal derailed his career. Now he teaches and writes stories from war-torn countries for Rolling Stone. His students are in their twenties – Douglas (Jerry O’Connell), a good writer who isn’t above using his connections (his uncle is a famous playwright) to get ahead; Kate (Lily Rabe), whose UWS-in-the-family-for-years-rent-stabilized-apartment is used as the classroom and who has been working on the same story since Bennington; Izzy (Hettienne Park), another good writer who uses her sexuality to get what she wants; and Martin (Hamish Linklater), the best writer in the class, who is quick to criticize everyone else but never shows his work to anyone.
Even though this master class is for writing and the dialogue is specific to that, most of what happens between the students and the teacher could happen at any master class. I could imagine the same actions between any male teacher and the young female students attracted to his power, talent, and intelligence. Leonard always speaks the truth no matter how much it hurts the idealistic students. When he finally reveals his own truth it’s because he’s angry that a brilliant writer would rather take the safe route that Leonard was forced into by the scandal instead of taking a chance and risking having it all.
Theresa Rebeck’s writing is funny, witty, and smart and like Sam Gold’s direction is perfect – the actors speak fast and smart. Everything happens so quickly that you’re sucked in and never given a chance to think about the actions because you’re too busy listening and waiting to see what’s going to happen next. There is a small twist – not a major plot turn – but the only reason why I figured out the deceit was because there was a quiet moment. When the deceit was revealed most of the audience was audibly surprised.
John Gromada’s music between scenes was a bit jarring – it was too loud and, for me, didn’t fit the mood. Ben Stanton did a good job with the lighting – the UWS apartment was light and bright and Leonard’s loft was a dark cave. David Zinn’s scenic design (he also did the costumes, which were everyday street clothes) was also brilliant – you got a good sense of what a UWS that had been in the family for years looked like and you would not mistake that loft as belonging to anyone else but someone who loved books and preferred their company.
During the last emotional scene a cell phone went off. It happened near us so when the woman took it out of her purse it was very loud. The second it started the audience started shuffling, moaning, and whining. Rickman and Linklater tried to keep on but between the noise of the phone and a distracted audience no one was paying attention. Finally Rickman said, “Do you hear a ding?” The audience burst out in applause and I’m pretty sure Linklater was trying very hard not to laugh (he was seated and we were up in the balcony so we saw more of the top of his head than his face but his body language looked like someone trying to stay in control). When everyone calmed down, Rickman and Linklater continued. Unfortunately there were only a few more lines of dialogue left to the scene and the audience never got enough time to get back into the play. That noise took me out of it and I won’t forgive that woman for that.
Seminar is scheduled to run until March – you should definitely go and see it.
By Carene Lydia Lopez