By Laura Kennelly
It’s a fact not universally appreciated that writing is not fun. Theresa Rebeck’s witty play, Seminar, manages to make this idea funny–especially to anyone who has ever tried to write fiction. The Beck Center production directed by Donald Carrier is the regional premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s 2011 award-winning peek into the secret lives of four aspiring novelists and the famous writer they have hired to teach their seminar.
It’s a quirky play likely to delight anyone who has ever read a novel and admired/hated an author.
When the play opens, the four young aspiring writers sound supportive and friendly, praising each other and listening to the intellectual Douglas (played by Brian Gale) boasting about his important literary connections. Each represents a different literary style: Jane Austen-wannabe Kate (patrician Lara Knox) listens to him politely; dizzy, sexualized Izzy (a ditzy Aily Roper) seems ready to sleep her way to the literary top, and tee-shirt clad Martin (tough-guy Andrew Gombas) scorns Douglas as a windbag. Martin brings what would have been an original talent to the mix if Jack London and later the Beats hadn’t gotten there first.
Then sour, condescending famous novelist Leonard (an authoritative Scott Plate) arrives and flips their little worlds upside down. Leonard slowly reveals the justice behind the lacerating evaluations he spews on the dreamy four. Plate’s nuanced performance finally helps us see Leonard’s heart, a heart that enabled him to create that one great first novel.
Of course Leonard isn’t satisfied because he knows all successful writers’ dirty little secret: one success is never enough. They need good reviews, they need awards, they need to write another great novel: there’s no end, no satisfaction. It’s funny; it’s human. Never enough.
Some theatre goers have quibbled about how fast the big name writer assesses the students’ typescripts (sometimes one half of a sentence evokes a disgusted tirade by the “master”), but based on my creative-writing teaching experience, I’d say it’s quite possible to “know” right away. (For example, didn’t you who are Janeites cringe at the first sentence of this review when I evoked poor old Jane Austen once again? See? Everyone’s a critic.) That’s not to say Leonard’s is good pedagogy, but the four writers in this play, living in New York City, devoting themselves to “art” probably either need a good dose of reality or a ticket home (or both).
The close quarters, comfy seat Beck Studio Theatre setting contributes to the intensity of this quick, quirky, please-don’t-miss show with broad appeal for “creatives” and anyone who has to put up with them. It’s almost like being in the class–but thankfully, you aren’t. It’s also a class for adults-only please.
Bottom Line: Go. Great cast, funnier story than you might think. Seminar runs through June 29.
[Photo: Pat Miller]
Tickets for Seminar are $29 for adults, $26 for seniors (65 and older), and $12 for students (with valid ID). An additional $3 service fee per ticket is applied at the time of purchase. Group discounts are available for parties of 13 or more. Purchase tickets online at beckcenter.org or call 216.521.2540 x10. Beck Center is located at 17801 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, just ten minutes west of downtown Cleveland. Free onsite parking is available.
Listening to and learning more about music has been a life-long passion. She knows there’s no better place to do that than the Cleveland area.