“A soul-sucking waste of words.”
“A perplexed tone of detached intelligence.”
That’s the kind of cutting criticism aspiring writers paid $5,000 each for in Theresa Rebeck’s “Seminar.”
A delicious version of the fast-paced comedy is on stage now at Live Theatre Workshop.
Dishing out the soul-wrenching critiques is misogynistic, razor-tongued Leonard, a fiction god, editor and teacher to a select few with somewhat promising writings and plenty of money.
Deftly directed by Eva Tessler, “Seminar” has a cast that knows how to deliver.
Samantha Cormier’s Kate grew up in privilege and feels a tad guilty that she has a multi-room Upper West Side New York City rent-controlled apartment that has been in her family for years (get this: the rent is $800 a month). You can sense her withering fury when she hears that “soul-sucking waste of words” critique about a story she had been working on for six years. Cormier is always a joy to watch on stage.
Brie Zepeda plays the sexy Izzy. Her writing appeals to Leonard because he senses her lusty words will lead him right to her bed. He’s right, of course. Zepeda captured the sensual Izzy, who is very pragmatic about how to get ahead in the writing world: sleep with all the right people. Zepeda did this without a caricaturish bone in her body.
The other two in the writing seminar are men: A wildly insecure Martin (Steve Wood) who is too intimidated to show anyone his writing, and the preppy, overly-secure-thanks-to-his-connections Douglas (Josh Parra). Wood makes Martin’s rage and self-doubts palpable. Parra starts out with an overbearing confidence and slowly withers with Leonard’s damning critiques (“a perplexed tone of detached intelligence” was directed at Douglas).
Jonathan Northover embraced the role of Leonard, a man who no longer publishes, has become an in-demand editor, drinks too much and constantly name drops cities he’s travelled to, which somehow bucks up his image of a man with important things to say. This is not a very likable character — he is cruel, dismissive, chauvinistic. Northover made Leonard just self-loathing enough (we wish he had been a bit more at times) that we were compelled not to dismiss him.
This play is packed with laughs, and the verbal acrobatics are clever and often smart.
But there is a disturbing edge to Rebeck’s play: It is the men who, in the end, are taken seriously. The women hold the sex card. The playwright has been vocal about the glass ceiling in the theater world, and about the need to get stories about women by women on the stage. So it’s odd that in the end, “Seminar” says it’s ok that men have the talent and the power and women are just going to have to live with that.