SEMINAR SEARCHES FOR MEANING
The premise: four fiction writers have paid five thousand dollars each to participate in an exclusive seminar with a renowned teacher. Filled with witty wordplay, love triangles, and hints of something deeper, Center Theatre Group’s production of Theresa Rebeck’s writerly comedy Seminar is fun, colorful, and entertaining—but ultimately offers emotionally lean fare.
It starts well: In a flash, Ben Stanton’s bright lights illuminate an enviably swanky New York apartment, designed by David Zinn. Douglas (an electric Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) proudly pontificates to his three fellow—though less laureled—students about his experiences at highly selective artist residencies like the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. Douglas is the privileged, on-the-verge-of-being-published alpha of the group, and his entire being seems to pulsate in enthusiastic agreement with his words, though the ideas expressed are laughably precious (“the interiority of the exteriority”). Martin (Greg Keller), his poor, awkward classmate, is barely able to contain his vexation at this pointlessly loquacious rival.
But as the plot unfolds, it becomes difficult to determine where things are headed, and whom we should rally behind as our protagonist. Is it Kate (Aya Cash), the economically privileged, self-described feminist?; Martin, the ethical stalwart Kate has long had a crush on?; or Leonard (Jeff Goldblum), the morally inferior instructor? It’s certainly not Izzy (Jennifer Ikeda), the exhibitionist/opportunist who is brazenly set up as an obvious foil to uptight Kate. It’s definitely not Douglas, though Near-Verbrugghe’s impeccable work makes his scenes truly delightful to watch.
At one point, Leonard asks, “Am I a feral cat or am I a useless goldfish?” Only Kate falls closer to the feral cat, though Cash’s bluntness is sometimes tinged with an inexplicable timidity. Aside from the crackling scenes between Goldblum and Cash, the other characters end up as useless goldfish: they’re enjoyable to watch, but end up going nowhere in the tank of Rebeck’s literary but fragile disingenuousness.
Dramaturgically, Leonard and Martin share the core of the play: Goldblum’s Leonard is vacant, rambling and self-absorbed, seemingly aware that he is a caricature; and Keller’s Martin grows progressively more frustrated and contained, channeling all of himself into his written work. Still, their relationship, though compelling, does not catch fire soon enough in the play to allow us a satisfying journey.
Director Sam Gold brings even more humor to Rebeck’s clever, direct dialogue, which covers intriguing political ground, such as feminism and capitalism (“Fraud is a way of life in a capitalist culture, especially in the arts”). As entertaining as it may be, however, the fundamental problem with Seminar is that the play questions what makes a great writer and a great feminist, but, to our frustration, leaves both questions unanswered.
photos by Craig Schwartz
Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theatre
scheduled to end on November 18, 2012
for tickets, call (213) 972-4400 or visit http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org