Death By Dangling Participle
Four aspiring writers open a vein to let a famous literary figure into their coterie at 2nd Story Theatre.by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
“Ripping the manuscript to shreds, the editor watched the young novelist dash out of the room.” This is not the kind of sentence construction a young writer wants to show a seasoned editor. However, sometimes aspiring writers are so desperate they’ll do whatever they think it takes to get published, even if it means sacrificing themselves.
Therein lies the impetus for Theresa Rebeck’s smart and revealing play “Seminar,” in production through Feb. 22 at Warren’s 2nd Story Theatre. In the capable hands of director Pat Hegnauer, the show is a not-to-be-missed hoot and holler.
When four young wannabe writers Douglas (James Lucey), Kate (Erin Elliott), Martin (Ara Boghigian), and Izzy (Tania Montenegro) set their sights on writing the great American novel, everything comes to a grinding halt when they hire an irascible editor from the literary trenches to get them over the hump and into the limelight of either academic recognition and/or public adoration.
One of the lessons the four learn from Leonard (Ed Shea) at their first weekly seminar is that writing about life is no less difficult than living it. Leonard has a heart of stone, an acerbic wit, and, for a man of letters, a vocabulary that is inexplicably heavily dependent on the use of expletives, making him the perfect storm in an editorial context.
Ed Shea’s portray of Leonard is dead-solid perfect; he is much more interested in tearing down than building up, more into sexual conquests than grammatical gymnastics, and more absorbed in his own turbulent life than that of his students; however, since he has a track record and solid connections in the world of publishing, his place as the great guru in the minds of his naive pupils is secure.
In the initial seminar, Leonard dismisses Kate as a serious writer before he even finishes reading the first sentence of a short story she’d taken six years to write. Erin Elliott is superb as the conflicted Kate; she stands her ground, accusing Leonard of being a misogynistic pig and defends her work, but Leonard is unmoved.
Leonard is impressed by the sexually explicit story Izzy contributes at a subsequent seminar; taken by either a soft spot in his heart or hard place in his pants, Leonard invites Izzy out for a drink. This infuriates Martin and Douglas, both of whom have designs on Izzy. Montenegro’s portrayal of the liberated feminist is seething with a blatant sexuality and drive to succeed, and she’s willing to break all the rules — grammatical and otherwise — to do it.
Martin and Douglas are the odd couple in the group; both have talent of one kind or another as writers, but they approach their craft from different perspectives. Douglas is cerebral; his intellect drives not only his writing but his behavior as well. Lucey does a beautiful job of revealing Douglas’ aloof sensitivity and arcane logic.
On the other hand, Martin writes from the gut and from the heart; his prose is visceral, like the emotions he wears on his sleeve. He is smart, demanding, and very funny, all traits which Boghigian captures in spades in one of his finest performances to date. He is trouble and troubled, ideal characteristics for an aspiring novelist.
Ironically, in a play about writers, much of what is said is not said with words, a factor that makes Rebeck’s play all the more fascinating. All five characters speak volumes with body language and facial expressions. Everybody is always involved in the action, even when listening to another character’s lengthy monologue. This is superb acting and attention to detail.
2nd Story’s production of “Seminar” is in keeping with their plays on words like “Eleemosynary” and “Collected Stories.” “Seminar” is a smart, tantalizingly sexual and deliciously humorous production that sweeps you into an unfamiliar world of artistic aspirations where bloodsucking literary types are far more real than the vampires and zombies you see on cable TV or at the movies.