Sunday, January 22, 2012

Flourishing Under a Taskmaster in 'Seminar'

Leonard (Alan Rickman), center, addresses Martin (Hamish Linklater), Izzy (Hettienne Park), Kate (Lily Rabe) and Douglas (Jerry O’Connell). Photos by Jeremy Daniel.


much would you pay to invite the criticism and opprobrium of a master?

In “Seminar,” a group of five aspiring novelists each pay the grand sum of $5,000 to engage Leonard (Alan Rickman), a renowned editor and author, to critique their work.

Over the course of a number of weeks, the acerbic Leonard jabs at their weaknesses. It seems that Leonard’s sarcasm is an effective pedagogical tool. He doesn’t offer even faint praise, yet under his tutelage all of the participants find a unique voice.

Plays about writers and writing can be stagnant, seemingly sitting on the page, as it were. Thanks, though, to excellent dialogue, some twisty plot points and a fine cast, Theresa Rebeck’s “Seminar” sparkles with wit and life. It is at the Golden Theatre through 18 March.

Although Leonard is brutally frank with, and even seemingly indifferent to his charges, make no mistake all of his pupils are prodigiously talented. They are a gossipy and knowing group with definite and vastly different expectations of this experience.

For example, Kate (Lily Rabe), who is hosting the sessions in her family’s expansive Upper West Side home, needs liberation from rewriting the same story over and over. Izzy (Hettienne Park) is looking to master the politics of getting published. In her case this may include sleeping to the top of the manuscript pile. Douglas (Jerry O’Connell), the most successful, well connected and already a published author, would seem a perfect target for Izzy’s attentions. Instead, she focuses on Martin (Hamish Linklater), the reluctant genius in the group. HL plays Martin with a nervous skittishness that conveys just how put off he is by Leonard’s teaching style.

The actors are so natural and relaxed in the play’s setting that it is easy to believe that they are studying at a master’s feet. (See video at

Martin (Hamish Linklater), Izzy (Hettienne Park), Kate (Lily Rabe) and Douglas (Jerry O’Connell) are enrolled in a master class in "Seminar."

The speed and wit of TR’s language and the charm of the cast fashion “Seminar” into an engrossing, moving and very funny work. AR, CR, HL each have an emotional monologue that adds drama to the proceedings.

“Seminar” is billed as a comedy, but it is so much more. It sinks its teeth into the nature of ambition and the desire to be special – to succeed and be heard. It’s the big speeches, wondrously spun by each character at his or her turn, that make “Seminar” so compelling and dramatic.

Visit to learn more about “Seminar.”

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