By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Marti Lyons
Produced by Haven Theatre
At Theater Wit, Chicago
Provocative comedy is filled with cynical humor, biting truths and the foibles of aspiring writers
Playwright Theresa Rebeck has written for TV, film, completed short stories and novels so she knows the world of fiction writing and its dynamics. Her 2012 one act play, Seminar, is a provocative comedy filled with truths and observations from the world of professional fiction writing. This is a funny yet smart and absolutely impressive script staged well and cast with five talented players. Director Marti Lyons produces an intelligent work filled with expert performances that services Rebeck’s stinging script well. This is one of the finest pieces of writing to be mounted on a Chicago stage in years!
In Seminar, we meet four aspiring writers as the each pay $5,000 to attend a 10 week seminar lead by Leonard (Tom Hickey in his finest performance to date), an international literary figure, novelist, and editor. He only takes talented fiction writers into his private seminars. We meet his four students who meet in a lavish Manhattan apartment (nice set design by Joanne Iwanicka) occupied by Kate (Mary Williamson)-the aspiring writer who has been writing and re-writing the same short story about Jane Austen for six years.
Douglas (Carl Lindberg) is the pompous, vain, name-dropping writer determined to use his family name and connections to get published. He is the product of a writing colony. Izzy (Atra Asdou) is the sexy gal with limited writing ability who will use sex to get ahead. Martin (Keith Neagle) is self-doubting class angry writer who is reluctant to expose any of his writing to the group.
The seminar creates a dynamic that finds the group hesitant to be honest as to the literary merits of each others scripts. But the expert seminar leader, Leonard, is bluntly honest, outspoken in his evaluations of the writing samples submitted. His cynical, acerbic, sexist and abusive comments are recklessly personal attacks on both the student’s writing and their person. He attacks Kate’s writing in awful terms leaving others to fear submitting their writing to Leonard’s analysis. These exchanges, particularly Leonard’s analyses are biting, cynical and very funny as they are filled with zinging truths, social comments as well as spot-on depictions of the person targeted by the brutally insulting leader. Seminar is really about the dynamic of the power students give to their teachers (mentors) as they crave for attention, approval , as well as knowledge from those teachers. During the weekly sessions, some students thrive and others flounder, others form survival alliances. Sex is used as a weapon and as consolation. The wordplay get vicious yet the strong are moved and improved through Leonard’s unorthodox methods.
The world of creative fiction writing is exposed in ugly honesty by Theresa Rebeck. The strong curmudgeon character of Leonard is deftly played by Tom Hickey. He has a sharp obnoxious manner, the stinging verbal tone and the stage presence to make Leonard one memorable character. Hickey is fabulous as he delivers a mesmerizing performance as the abusive writing expert. Mary Williamson is also winning as the wounded writer who is motivated toward excellence from Leonard’s vicious attacks. Ultimately, Keith Neagle’s subtle take on the self-doubting Martin emerges as Leonard’s most moved pupil.
Seminar is funny, stinging, smart, as it stirs us with biting comments on the world of both fiction writing and our quest to achieve fame and fortune in the creative arts. Anyone who has ever penned a story will relate to this show. Haven Theatre has mounted a gem of a show. A strong script presented by a terrific ensemble are ingredients for a wonderful trip to the theatre. This show is worth seeing.
Talk Theatre in chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 3, 2014
For more info checkout the Seminar page at theatreinchicago.com
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call 773-975-8150, tickets $32, seniors $25, Industry/students $10, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 100 minutes without intermission, through April 13, 2014