There is no doubt that the current offering at the Beck Center for the Arts is one “Seminar” you do not want to miss. Five thriving actors fire on all cylinders in this witty play about the creative process of writing, and the critique that gets you there. Without intermission, “Seminar” is a 90 minute literary ride that never stops giving, thanks to the adroit and inventive direction of Donald Carrier. Written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck, “Seminar” must have been a blast to write. It pokes fun at the literary world from the angle of what teachers and advisors can be like, and the fellow students and achievers that have that special quirky signature esthetic. But it leaves room for some very poignant moments that reflect the true meaning of what exists within our most honest considerations.
The play opens in a fabulous Upper West Side Apartment, which happens to contain four hungry writers ready to take on the literary world. Kate (Lara Knox*) is the owner of the apartment, or should I say, the recipient of gracious parents. She is a high strung pistol who is a little sexual repressed and dramatic. She has spent 6 years tweaking her masterpiece in an attempt to revise it to perfection. Martin (Andrew Gombas) is very focused on being a “real” writer. The only problem is he won’t share his writings with anyone. Douglas (Brian Gale) comes from great pedigree, and really enjoys hearing himself speak on a high intellectual level and about the process. He has the power of a recognizable last name, which is helpful, but as later addressed, seems a bit whorish. Izzy (Aily Roper) starts off being a big fan of Douglas, but seems more interested in working connections, by using her own power of “connection”. Izzy works a room better than most lobbyists. What do these fab four have in common? They have each paid $5000 dollars apiece to receive the tutelage of the esteemed Leonard (Scott Plate*), a renowned editor and playwright. What they don’t expect to get is the editor from hell, which Plate embodies with zest.
Plate, who is on fire here, is like the Mama Rose of the literary world. He infuses Leonard with grand layers of drive, pompous posturing, and most importantly, brutal honesty. I mean, who can’t love a guy who refers to writers as feral cats. I am surprised the set wasn’t surrounded by boxing ring ropes. Everyone gets to take their turn being obliterated by the Godzilla of critique. My favorite is watching Knox eat her feelings, and ends up showing she does not need a spoon to devour her ice cream. This is one depressed feral cat that will never go hungry. Knox is fantastic throughout this play, and made me gut laugh with the simple act of ordering Chinese food. It also doesn’t help, Kate has feelings for Martin. And that doesn’t end well either, as Izzy and Martin get busy for extended periods of time, without deference to location. So much so, a bit created to pick up the “pillow of love” off the floor, is brilliant.
As the play goes on, everyone is taking a toll from the brutal nature of the sessions, and as a result, people want out, their money back, or decide to lessen morality to achieve a higher purpose. Towards the end, the laughs subside to explore and address internal issues buried within these characters. Do we judge the writer or the work? Is there pride as a Ghost writer? And, why Martin is afraid to give up his pages? As Leonard states, “Some people are so crippled, they can’t stand the truth.”
Reaching the end, there are two very powerful moments that avail themselves. Gombas delivers a searing, powerful torrent of emotion and brutal truth as Martin finally lets loose on Leonard. And in response, Plate displays the most honest and moving passages from Leonard, that he hasn’t shared with anyone in many, many years. Both moments are pin drop worthy. And when it is Martin that consoles Leonard, a sparkling moment reveals itself.
These actors are a beautiful team, led by a dynamic director who has guided an exquisite evening of theatre. There are many laughs, and a crescendo that results in true introspection. Also of note, is that Gale, Gombas and Roper are recent graduates of acclaimed Oberlin College. Kudos to the acting program that created these talented young artists, and to the teachers, like the venerable Matthew Wright, who invested so much in their future.
The Production Staff delivers fine work as well. Superb Scenic Designer Cameron Caley Michalak, provides a set that seamlessly changes from scene to scene, and then finally, location. Trad A (no period) Burns continues his excellent work. Sound Designer Cyrus O. Tayler spot on. Technical Director Joseph Carmola competently pulls the elements together is great style and execution.
This is a very good evening of theatre. Elements of comedy abound, but also, the elements of darkness that haunt most artistic genius.
*appear courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.
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$12-$29 Reserved Seating