Anyone who’s ever been in a writing workshop and presented writing for the judgment of others will recognize the quartet of wannabe fiction writers in Theresa Rebeck’s “Seminar.”
This is a select group – allowed in only by recommendation – and each has paid $5,000 for help on how to fulfill their creative vision from once-famous novelist Leonard (Jonathan Sachs).
You know the types. There’s Douglas (Robert Malave), nephew of a famous writer, who has a few publications to his credit and a novel about to be shopped around by his agent. He tries to impress with artsy-fartsy stuff about “exteriority” and “interiority.”
There’s Kate (Samantha Ginn), daughter of privilege but unsure of herself as a writer, whose family owns the spacious Upper West Side Manhattan digs used for the class.
Kate’s old high school friend Martin (Alex Guzman) wants to write but is too chicken to even submit his work for criticism.
And there’s Izzy (Dana Wing Lau), sexy and willing to use it if it’ll bring her fame, wants to write “one of those drug menace books…that have the girls with their shirts off on the cover.”
Leonard’s critical approach is every writer’s nightmare. He may know writing but he lacks, shall we say, interpersonal skills and doesn’t hesitate to insult his students.
Leonard suggests that Douglas head for Hollywood because “you’re talented but you’re never going to be great” because “too many people who know … will know (your writing) is hollow.”
Leonard rips the story Kate has been inexplicably writing for six years. She is devastated by his failure to appreciate her sardonic use of a Jane Austen quote at the beginning and his refusal to read beyond her first sentence because the story is “not exactly drawing me in here.”
He’s rather nicer to Izzy’s effort, but there may be an ulterior motive here.
The cast is terrific. Sachs’ Leonard dominates as he roars his insults, claiming they’re “truth,” seemingly oblivious to the effect he’s having on these hapless students.
His colleagues are equally fine actors. Ginn’s portrayal of Kate is stunning, almost saying more with her expressions and gestures than with words. Known for her comic roles, here she shows heartbreaking vulnerability.
Costume designer Alanna Serrano dresses Malave’s Douglas to suit his inflated self-image. He looks successful, therefore he will be, right?
Lau’s Izzy is excellent as the determined sexpot set on doing whatever it takes to get published.
Guzman’s Martin is an appealingly complex character, even less secure about his writing than old buddy Kate.
Kudos to Director Kym Pappas and InnerMission Productions for this fine showing at Diversionary Theatre’s tiny Black Box, a perfect location for this intimate play. Even Michael McKeon’s set is word-centric (you’ll see what I mean when you get there).
“Seminar” is primarily a play for those who have been there, though Rebeck’s characters and dialogue are consistently amusing even without that connection. You could say these are all stereotypes, and you’d be right. But they’re so amusingly written and engagingly played that you won’t mind.
“Seminar” plays through March 26, 2016 at the Diversionary Black Box, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights.
Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm (also 13th @ 4:30 pm & 14th @ 7:30 pm)
Tickets: (619) 324-8970 or firstname.lastname@example.org