Thoughts & Musings

2nd Story’s ‘Seminar’ Hard-hitting Tale of Writers

'Seminar' provides 85 minutes of non-stop intrigue.

by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
  • 2nd February 20152/02/15
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We tend to think of writers as a genteel, cultured lot. But when a group of aspiring writers signs up for a seminar with a famous novelist in Theresa Rebeck’s “Seminar,” now at 2nd Story Theatre, the class turns out to be as “civilized as feral cats,” to quote Ed Shea’s tyrannical Leonard, who’s leading these brutal sessions that involve crushing critiques, sexual entanglements and a sweet, unexpected bond.

“Seminar” is playing 2nd Story’s upstairs theater, which has once again been reconfigured in the round with minimal sets, while in the downstairs theater an aspiring writer challenges her mentor in “Collected Stories,” which page for page is a richer, subtler piece of writing.

But if you like a good old-fashioned slugfest, Rebeck’s “Seminar” provides 85 minutes of non-stop intrigue, thanks to Pat Hegnauer’s all-or-nothing direction.

Four young writers sign up to work with Shea’s Leonard, an arrogant, self-involved bully capable of ripping a story to shreds without reading beyond the first sentence. His criticism seems arbitrary, designed to inflict pain and embarrassment.

He takes a shine to a story from Douglas, a writer with something of a pedigree. But when Douglas, played by an insecure James Lucey, asks for a few critical comments, Leonard calls him a whore, and says his work is hollow and that he ought to think about writing for Hollywood.

And he won’t even read beyond the first line of Kate’s meditation on Jane Austen.

As the sessions evolve, it’s hard to tell who is an ally of whom, as jealousies arise. And it’s a little hard to tell who’s sleeping with whom.

But Leonard has ghosts of his own that begin to surface as the classes unfold.

When Ara Boghigian’s Martin stands up to him, Leonard tells him his work is strong but that he’s a nobody destined for a life of dead-end teaching jobs, editing posts and teaching private seminars, a scenario that could only be Leonard’s own autobiography.

It’s great to see Shea out from behind the scenes as a director and back on stage, where he is riveting as Leonard. And Boghigian, who does so well with edgy roles, is terrific as the defiant Martin.

It should be noted that Rebeck’s writing is crisp, and punchy, but laced with obscenities.

In the end, most everyone gets something out of the sessions with Leonard, a job or a much needed pat on the back. Under that prickly exterior Leonard seems to care, which is brought home in the abrupt, but stunning ending.

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