Friday, November 4, 2011

theatre review SEMINAR, Broadway, November 3

Seminar is the latest play by Theresa Rebeck and while Rebeck has written many plays this is actually only her second one to make it to Broadway.  Starring Alan Rickman, Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Jerry O'Connell and Hettienne Park, Seminar is currently in previews and opens on November 20th.

Rickman is Leonard, a former writer of some merit who has moved on to editing and conducting private 10 week writing seminars for aspiring writers at $5,000 a person.  He states that he tells the truth, so if you don't want to hear it, or can't deal with it, then this class isn't for you.   Though if he is really just telling the truth or simply belittling the students as a way to get back at what has transpired in his life are debatable.  All four of the students Leonard is "instructing" are writers of some merit, or at least they think they are, and over the course of the 100 minutes of the play all five of them, including Leonard, will learn something about themselves and each other as well as the truth about their writing abilities.

Hamish Linklater, Alan Rickman, Jerry O'Connell,
Lily Rabe and Hettienne Park
Told mostly in a series of short scenes, Seminar is a well crafted play that gives the five actors many moments to shine, with some great monologues as well, especially for Rickman and Rabe.  It is also a comedy with several very funny lines but also some touching moments too.  I liked how you didn't exactly know the relationships the characters had to each other until about half way through the play and you also didn't quite know how the seminar came to be and exactly who the character of Leonard was until well into the evening.  It is nice to not be hit over the head with all the relevant data in the first five minutes but instead to let the dialogue flow naturally with the facts coming out how they would in normal conversation.  And while this might seem like another example of the often told story of "teacher with issues who inspires his students while also learning from them" it doesn't exactly follow that plot and Rebeck is very wise to keep the mushy or inspirational moments to a bare minimum.  It is simply a good play, with good characters and dialogue and one, like Proof, Doubt, God of Carnage and Red that I believe, will have a healthy life in regional theaters for the next few years.

Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe
As far as the cast goes, of course Rickman is giving an excellent performance.  His line readings can inspire pain and hate but he also has a wicked comic delivery.  He also inspires with just a few words and the simplest of phrases.  At times he is channeling the dark side of the character of "Severus Snape" he played in the Harry Potter films  but there are also moments of pain, jealousy and fear that he expertly conveys.  The rest of the cast are all perfect.  Rabe is giving another excellent performance and by playing the rich and mostly frumpy wallflower isn't playing the same types of parts she has played before.  She is a complete natural on the stage and makes her characters always seem so real, honest and believable.  Linklater, O'Connell and Park are all making their Broadway debuts.  While Linklater has performed in several Off Broadway and Public Theatre/Shakespeare in the Park productions, he is probably most recognized for co-starring in the tv show The New Adventures of Old Christine.  Likewise, Jerry O'Connell is most known for the many tv shows and movies like Stand by Me and Jerry Maguire that he has appeared in.  So it is nice to say that both are giving completely polished performances even only a week into previews.  For O'Connell, this also appears to be his professional legit debut as well, which you would never guess from the extremely strong performance he is giving.  While Park doesn't have quite as much to do as the rest of the cast, she also is giving a nuanced, layered performance.

Jerry O'Connell and Alan Rickman 
Director Sam Gold moves the evening along briskly, but also allows the piece to breath at the appropriate moments, especially when Rickman is reading something one of the students has written and the silence in the room is almost crackling with anticipation of exactly what comments he will make.  The set design and costumes are by David Zinn.  The set beautifully displays the apartments of two of the characters, which are as vastly different as their inhabitants.  Costumes are character perfect, I especially liked the many colored pants that O'Donnell wore and appreciated that since the play is set over many weeks that each character had several different outfits to wear, all completely specific to what you would imagine their characters would wear, and so we didn't see them in the same one over and over again like some productions sometimes do.

Jerry O'Connell, Hettienne Park and Lily Rabe
Rickman is obviously the draw here, getting a nice round of applause at his entrance as well as at the curtain call, which is completely deserved but also completely expected for a professional with his vast career.  However, I believe it is Rabe and Linklater, and even O'Connell, that people will remember most for their extremely nuanced and polished performances of well crafted characters by Rebeck.

One word of caution- there is plenty of profanity and a bit of female nudity in the play.


Official Site for Seminar behind the scenes interviews:

Another behind the scenes video compilation:

No comments:

Post a Comment