(All photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio)
Written by Alina Mae Wilson
Someone once suggested to me that every being holds a story. That each person on Earth has the tears and drama in their history to make them fascinating to someone, the story simply has to be well written. Seminar (playing at the Chance Theater) makes a strong case for the accuracy of that statement. Seminar is a play about a group of people that for their own personal reasons want to be writers, and have therefore decided to take a $5,000.00 (each!) writing class from a well-known author and teacher. While other plays might be valued for their spine-tingling twists, Seminar prompts and encourages us to crawl through the fascinating muck of self-reflection.
In an upper-scale New York apartment, we meet a group of aspiring authors who desperately want to make it–desperate enough to shell out $5,000.00 for a writing class taught be an author-turned-editor who may or may not be all that ethical. At each of the group’s weekly sessions at least one person is expected to volunteer some of their work for the teacher’s inspection–and he does not mince words. His diatribe is relentless and leads the authors onstage to explore–is this man ethical? How far will can one personally go for success and still be considered ethical? With whom should you trust your work? Is competition a deterrent in the bonding experience of these authors? And more questions that they might not explicitly ask but we in the audience inevitably ask ourselves about our own capabilities and desires for success and happiness.
All but one scene in the play take place in the same location so the stage looks the same pretty much the entire time. It’s made up to look like a large living room, with the entrance to the hallway rising one level above near the back of the stage. Some nice furniture, a counter, a basic coffee table. Nothing elaborate, nothing too extraordinary in the way of visual appeal. This does not make any difference to the story at all. Our focus is and always will be on the tension between all of the authors, as well as the questions that they face.
Every actor brings their character to life in their own way, and is successful at seamlessly weaving themselves into the thread of the story line. Ned Liebl is perfectly disgusting and occasionally pitiable as Seminar instructor Leonard, which goes a long way in demonstrating just how admirable his reputation must be and how badly the other writers must want to utilize every drop of prestige they can squeeze from his name. Which of course begs the question: exactly what do we in the audience each want in our hearts, and how far are we willing to get it? What are we willing to put up with for the shaky-at-best guarantee that a sloppy drinker who wears two shirts and talks a little too much about sex can give us our hearts’ desire? One of the people who endeavors to answer this question is Martin. Casey Long is just so sad in his portrayal of this poor guy. He’s decidedly intelligent and even pretty likable but right from the beginning it is made clear that this is not really an enviable person. Liebl and Long play off of each other well it’s true but they really shine in the group scenes when you get to see them express everything from delight to disgust with their companions. In fact, the group scenes are just the best part of the show period. It never feels stale and moves continuously from moment to moment.
The story itself is interesting without being crazy. It focuses intently on the deeply ordinary–the competition between professionals combined with a desire to give and receive truth, while still desiring kind truth. There’s just no way around it, no one (in Seminar) enjoys being critiqued harshly, even when someone else espouses the idea that harsh truth provides the straightest path to productivity, read: success, in the way that it is wanted when it is wanted. A major question of Seminar seems to be “are we all more or less just whores?” Sometimes the answers get a little irritating but it’s worth watching. The story is about writers but one needn’t be a writer to enjoy the plot or its humor. It is introspective without making the viewers hate themselves, and thoughtful without being preachy. It’s interesting, thought-provoking, and brimming by the bucketful with talent. Seminar is definitely worth your time.
September 23 – October 23, 2016
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