Friday, July 25, 2014

“Seminar” at Theatre9/12 warns you “Never take a writing class!”

From left: Samantha Camp, Randall Brammer, Jeff Berryman, Michael LoSasso (photo by Michael Brunk)
Through August 3, 2014

Theresa Rebeck’s play, Seminar, now being presented by Theatre9/12, seems like a two hour exhortation to never take a writing seminar! You’ll meet people who are either uninteresting or socially awkward or competitive or all three. At least, the initial impression of the writers in her play, all of whom have found $5,000 in New York dollars to attend a select writing seminar, points to those personality traits.

None of the would-be writers is an attractive personality. They are all relatively physically attractive, but Douglas (Randall Brammer) thinks he’s the breakout writer, Kate (Samantha Camp) doesn’t have much self-esteem – so why should we like her, Izzy (Monica Finney) is a sort of realist who understands that success might as well depend on who you sleep with and so she exploits that, and Martin (Michael LoSasso) seems to think it’s ok to spend all his worldly dough on the class and then sponge off anyone he knows.

Then there is the teacher, a novelist turned editor from a mysterious past disgrace, Leonard (Jeff Berryman). He seems to be able to make up his mind about your writing sample from the first sentence. He then passes judgment on your writing ability. He encourages the other writers to comment as well.

Having been in many writing groups, the dialogue of these writers is dismaying to me! They constantly say something is “good” or “bad” or “I liked it” or something similar, non-descriptive and unhelpful. If those are the kinds of writing groups that Rebeck has been part of, no wonder she thinks they are a waste of time! Constructive criticism can be easily coached, but none of that is going on with these folks.

So, the first act is a bit of a pain to sit through, since you may not care at all about any of these people, nor care about whether they are good writers, nor care if they become successful, nor care if their relationships are good. That could be a problem. However, the second act does redeem itself a bit, and the end result is that you might start finally caring a bit about them.

The actors in this theater-in-the-round directed by Paul O’Connell all do a good job with their characters, though perhaps O’Connell amps up the stereotypes too much in the first act and ends up alienating audience members. They too easily project their “type” and don’t successfully fill it with their own reality until the latter half of the play. So, the complexity of character doesn’t arise until later.

It’s hard to say if that’s a script failing or a directing one. It could well be both.

There is a moment where Leonard gets to sum up his experience as a writer where he demonstrates the reasons he is who he is. That’s where you’re supposed to give him a break for his behavior. Berryman does a great job with the speech, but much of the dialogue is so facile that it’s not quite believable enough.

If you like verbal, intellectual sparring, sexual innuendo, and want to make fun of writing groups, this is the play for you. It has some funny moments. It didn’t end up being meaningful to me, but you should make up your own mind.

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