“Seminar” pits an obnoxious writing teacher against four wanna be novelists

By Lucy Komisar


This pretentious play by the otherwise talented playwright Theresa Rebeck gives writers a bad name. Four wanna be novelists fork over $5000 to get ten lessons from Leonard (Alan Rickman), a failed writer turned book editor, who must represent every nasty, self-centered writer or editor Rebeck ever met.

The pretentious professor speaks in bad metaphors, which he uses generously to put down his students. Otherwise he brags about his research trips to places such as Rwanda. He doesn’t appear to have read most of their submissions. Why do any of them put up with that? Or not demand their money back?


The minutes spent with this crew is excruciatingly painful. Doubly so for the portraits of the women. Izzy (Hettienne Park), thinks the way to success is to hustle the men, which includes pulling up her shirt to show her bare breasts. She apparently thinks she projects Asian exoticism.

Kate (Lily Rabe), who is smart enough to write a pretend memoir by a Cuban transvestite gang member, and generally pushes against Leonard’s crudeness, also stuffs herself with junk food. And lets herself be insulted by the self-described great writer. (Hey, whatever happened to feminist consciousness?)

The young men in the class are Martin (Hamish Linklater), a nice young fellow who spends a lot of time ogling and chasing the women in the class. And Douglas (Jeffrey O’Connell), the nephew of an important literary figure, who name drops, but who I found the most serious and appealing of the lot.

There are a few good one-liners, especially used in Kate’s dissing of Leonard. But mostly it’s Leonard’s This reminds me of when I was at Yale with Penn Warren variety. It’s like being at a dinner party with people suffused with themselves.


At the end, people and sensitivities suddenly shift, but nothing leads up to making any of that believable. I particularly disliked the sexist finale which has Leonard and Martin talking seriously about the youth’s manuscript, followed by a scene in which Kate wanders out of the guru’s bedroom, her bare buttocks sticking out from under her shirt. So that shows what men and women writers really care about.   (I’ll spare you Leonard’s description of what she did in bed.)

Yes, the actors are fine, I always like seeing Linklater and Rabe, and director Sam Gold draws every bit of unpleasantness out of the lines.

Theresa Rebeck has been one of my favorite playwrights. I thought The Understudy was brilliant. But what in the world was Rebeck thinking in Seminar? OK, maybe she was getting back at the idiot writers and editors she has known. She didn’t like being around them, but in this play, neither do we.

Seminar. Written by Theresa Rebeck; directed by Sam Gold. John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened Nov 20, 2011. Tickets on sale through May 27, 2012. Jeff Goldblum replaces Alan Rickman on April 3, 2012. Review on New York Theatre Wire site.


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2 Responses to "“Seminar” pits an obnoxious writing teacher against four wanna be novelists"

  1. Laura S   Mar 7, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Hmm I didn’t think the play was pretentious but maybe that says more about me than it does you! It’s about people who are pretentious, each in their own way. But I’ll agree it’s not for everyone, and yes, it feels unevenly lightweight. The serious and frivolous don’t completely gel. Reviewer is using the “Royal We” here – I enjoyed being around those people – not always laughing “with” them, though. I would say give it a chance, and especially while Rickman is still in it!


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