'Seminar' Scores an A at TheatreWorks
Those who think real theater has died are not getting out enough. TheatreWorks in New Milford offers Theresa Rebeck's Seminar, a contemporary comedy (2011) adroit with humor, fine acting, gut-bucket aphorisms. This five-actor play about writers transcends the narrow subject of its focus while probing ambition, jealousy, and cowardice. Ironies sleep like fiery poems hidden in desk draws. Pushing beyond the surface of wit, characters are stripped naked by raw language employing anger perhaps more than healing, yet in this comedy of language healing triumphs with words that redeem and amuse. While the play begins as play about language, it is ultimately a play about characters, which is how it transcends its subject.
Mimetic of joining any group, the characters who join this elite writers group in Manhattan initially remain shy as they puff and pose with ambition while they lament they have wasted their money on a teacher whom they see as an abusive hack, expertly played by Kevin Sosbe, who does not appear in the first scene, but dominates the play with such force that when his students rebel one sympathizes with the students before the flawless reversal that leads to somber resolution, gritty as a hangover, but nonetheless redemptive. (The late Alan Rickman originally played Sosbe's role in the Golden Theatre Broadway production that ran for several months.) Sosbe possesses the required gravitas as well as mischievous Mephistophelean aura.
Chris Luongo, who played the title role in The Elephant Man and makes his debut at TheatreWorks, adeptly plays the shy cocoon that becomes an unwilling, radiant butterfly. Anya Carvella's role demands that she appear one-dimensionalat first, yet is revealed at the end to a multidimensional woman who accepts who she is and what she can do. Solid support from Reesa Roccapriore as the scheming floosy supplies light-hearted comic relief, as does Jim Dietter, the talented writer so proud of his talent that he will never be a serious writer. Rebeck's writing remains lean, taut in its process of etching satisfactory reversal, the key to any play worth the cost of admission. As a woman and writer, she really understands men.
Alicia Dempster's direction was sure-paced, wringing drama from poignant pauses in demotic dialogue or suspenseful gestures that suspended time. Set and costumes were aptly appropriate. The Faust myth, low-key until the climax, presents a subtlety seductive theme. While language is occasionally course, it remains pumped with passion that elbows beyond cliché. Although New Milford remains a bit of a drive south, our lame winter welcomes such an outing. Seminar runs until March 12.