Class is in session: City Theatre's 'Seminar' offers lessons
“Seminar” is a comedy for anybody who loves reading or writing, says City Theatre Company artistic director Tracy Brigden.
“It's a snappy, smart, funny contemporary play,” says Brigden, who also is directing Theresa Rebeck's comedy about four young writers and the literary superstar they hire to mentor them to greatness.
Izzy, Martin, Kate and Douglas — a quartet of talented, 20-something, aspiring writers — have paid a lot of money ($5,000 each) to Leonard, a pompous, posturing-but-respected 50-ish writer, who has condescended to read and critique their writings.
During the sessions that unfold in the living room of Kate's family's nine-room Upper West Side apartment, Leonard shreds their self-esteem, their illusions and their work with scathing observations and criticism.
As the meetings proceed, the young writers ask themselves and each other: Is Leonard a sadistic fraud who enjoys being paid to sneer and ridicule or is there a method to his madness?
“It's about these people at this crucial moment in their lives,” Brigden says. “They are people at the tipping point from emerging artist to actual professional.”
“Seminar” also offers an inside look into the writer's world of doubts and delusions, bravado and insecurity as reality and fiction struggle for supremacy.
“They are needy; they are artists but they are irascible-yet-lovable characters,” Brigden says.
There are lots of opportunities for laughter as the characters express themselves, from the self-impressed Douglas, recently returned from a prestigious, invitation-only writers retreat, to Kate, who has been obsessively working and reworking one story for an eternity.
Rebeck is an experienced practitioner at giving audiences a window on the inner workings of professions.
She has produced and written for television series that include “NYPD Blue” and “Law & Order,” as well as the first season of “Smash,” which chronicles the lives of artists and others striving to create a hit Broadway musical.
Brigden's relationship with Rebeck goes back for over two decades.
They met and became friends in 1992 when Brigden directed Rebeck's one-act comedy “Candy Heart” for the eighth annual Manhattan Punch Line Festival.
In 2001, when Hartford Stage Company commissioned Rebeck to write a contemporary adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's “A Doll's House,” Brigden, then associate artistic director at Hartford Stage, directed Rebeck's “DollHouse.”
More recently, Brigden produced Rebeck's one-woman comedy “Bad Dates” as part of City Theatre's 2004-05 season.
Brigden gave “Seminar” a slot in City Theatre's season because its setting intrigued her. “I grew up in a family with careers in the publishing industry and we had a lot of literary friends,” Brigden says. “The subject matter is something that intrigued me.”
She also liked that the script contained some surprises, including a change of location late in the play that places Leonard in his own surroundings.
“It's really fun to go from (Kate's) Upper West Side Riverside apartment to (Leonard's) apartment, a great West Village, book-filled townhouse,” Brigden says.
She also hints at other unexpected twists that come before the show concludes: “Everybody gets to move forward,” Brigden says. “Everyone advances.”
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.