The idea of watching a play about a group of writers learning how to write better sounds like a boring premise to me. But I know that SEMINAR has gotten rave reviews on Broadway and so I was curious about Falcon Theatre‘s production of the show. I was given an almost private screening last night and there are some very good things happening in Newport, KY over the next couple of weekends.
The story begins with a group of four young writers, all of whom have hired a caustic, abrasive, and obnoxious writing teacher to critique their work. Michael Shooner, local Equity actor, plays Leonard the writing instructor. He’s mean but he’s supposedly brilliant, like a literary Dr. House without the limp. He’s also a bit of a womanizer we find out, apparently quite fond of young female students. The two ladies are excellent in their respective roles. Angel Zachel is great as the seeming self-assured-but-really-not, beautiful, and flirtatious “Izzy.” Merritt Beischel, tall and leggy, is very quite authentic as the plain jane outspoken pseudo-feminist “Kate.” I suspect playwright Theresa Rebeck, a Cincinnati native and St. Ursuline graduate (she shares this in common with director Alecia Lewkowich) probably sees herself in Kate, but that’s just a guess.
The male students, played by Alec Bowling (Doug) and Ian Kramer (Martin) both flesh out their characters well on stage, especially Kramer. He explores love, disappointment, rejection, helplessness, and hopefulness all within the 2 hours of this very word script. He handles the sometimes cumbersome dialogue about as well as anyone on the stage and he and Beischel were the two most believable actors on stage.
Alan Rickman, who is a much different actor than Michael Shooner, played Leonard on Broadway to rave reviews. I can’t help but think they will be unfairly compared to one another, but Shooner makes the role his own. Especially as the show climaxed, I began to relate to him more and believe that by tonight’s opening, he will have found his groove – especially with the energy of a live audience in the room.
SEMINAR has a lot of words, but director Lewkowich does a nice job with the pacing. There are a couple of scene changes that felt too long but as the actors get more comfortable with their costume changes, this will likely speed up. And luckily there’s an intermission to give the audience a break – and a chance to enjoy some of those really good cookies the Falcon’s concession stand is known for.
Give SEMINAR a try – it runs Fridays and Saturdays through February 15th. And before or after, treat yourself to some Southern Smokes BBQ a block away; I recommend the baked beans! Tickets are available here.