City Theater’s newest play, Seminar, by Theresa Rebeck (of Smash fame) and directed by Tracy Brigden, has received some pretty stellar reviews. Variety called the show “enormously entertaining”. Time Out New York said it was “sexy, savvy, uproarious”. And I say it’s “fast-paced, quick-witted and surprising.” Wow, I totally lumped myself in there with Time Out New York and Variety. The nerve of me!
Anyway, are the reviews true? Let’s find out:
Enormously entertaining: Yes, this play about four writers who take a weekly writing seminar from a much-esteemed older writer is indeed enormously entertaining. The writers, made up of Andy Bean (Douglas), Charles Socarides (Martin), Rebecca Harris (Kate), and Nadia Gan (Izzy) all display nimble grace with an incredible verbose script, excellent comedic timing, a wonderful naturalness and speaking tone, and great chemistry with each other. Daniel Gerroll’s Leonard, the aforementioned esteemed older writer, is as commanding a character as he is complex. Reminded me of Bill Nighy a la Love, Actually. He was brash and bold and crude and beyond entertaining. You might even say enormously.
Sexy: Kudos to Nadia Gan for providing the sexy in this play. Within the first twenty minutes, she describes the story she’s writing ( a sort of 50 Shades of Gray but with a bit more irony) and flashes the audience. (No nudity, she just showed off a flat stomach and lacy black bra.) But that flash was enough to get Charles Socarides’ Martin all hot and bothered and plant her firmly as a girl with guile. And speaking of, Mr. Socarides was pretty dreamy himself.
Savvy and Uproarious: Take it from a writer: the jokes in this play are many and they are sharp. I found myself chuckling and laughing by the great one-liners (mostly delivered by Gerroll’s Leonard), the anecdotes (said with impressive body language and dry wit by Bean’s Douglas) and the situational comedy (when a depressed and dejected Kate comes out of her kitchen with a bag of chips in one hand, ice cream in another, and a 2 liter Diet Coke nestled in the crook of her arm comes to mind. Did they secretly tape me in my own house or something?) Writer Theresa Rebeck gets writers – for that matter, all creative types – and it shows in all the commentary and witticisms.
Fast-paced: There’s no intermission in this show because, frankly, their doesn’t need to be. It’s not a long production and there are two set pieces (both incredibly done by scenic designer Tony Ferrieri). I wanted to LIVE in those set pieces. They’re nicer than my house! The pacing never stops because the stakes never wane. From the moment this characters arrive on the scene, you’re invested 100%. And like a great book, once you’re hooked, you keep turning those pages quickly because you’ve just got to know what happens next! Leonard talks about writing as sound, and this production sounded like something off a greatest hits album. Just one awesome moment after another.
Quick-witted: See Savvy and Uproarious. Hey, it’s Time Out New York! I can agree with them!
Surprising: While you wouldn’t think there could be a lot of plot twists in a story that revolves around a weekly writer’s meeting, there are. And they’re devastating. Several times, the audience just gasped. A for real, honest to God gasp! The plot surprises were that good.
So you see? The critics were right and Ms. Brigden hit a home run with her most current production. She once again got the best out of her actors (and can I say that I am so glad to see that she cast a young Asian woman in the role? More ethnicity in art!). I loved how sound designer Joe Pino incorporated background noises to really immerse you in the atmosphere. The lighting was fabulous and like I said, the set pieces were to die for.
Seminar offers a great lesson in artistry and humility and the mind games that all come with a career in the arts. If there’s one thing to take from this master class, it’s this: writers are crazy. And wonderful. And funny and complex. And plays about them are fantastically entertaining.
Seminar runs now through February 10. For tickets, go to citytheatre.org.