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'Seminar' at TheatreWorks New Milford

By Mary Hembree, Citizen News


Seminar is a contemporary play (2011) by American playwright Theresa Rebeck.  Four aspiring young writers pay the sizeable sum of $5,000 each for a ten week seminar where their writing, and by extension their egos, will be under the scrutiny of Leonard, a magniloquent, has-been of a celebrated novelist whose star is now quite tarnished.

Meeting in the swanky apartment of Kate (whose family is wealthy yet paying a pittance for a rent controlled, grandiose Manhattan dwelling) the four young writers engage in rapid and witty dialogue revealing false bravado and trembling psyches.  Kate, played to perfection by Anya Caravella, argues from a feminist point of view and cleverly plays the situation to her advantage.  Martin is struggling financially and holds his work back, his fear of criticism palpable.  He and Kate are the nucleus of this group and Chris Luongo is exceptional as Martin.   Nephew of a famous playwright, Douglas can actually write but tends to trip through the very language he wants to master.  Smart, sexy Izzy has potential and using her wiles is not out of the question.  Jim Dietter and Reesa Roccapriore respectively, shine in these two supporting roles and this ensemble is bright and fresh, skillfully weaving their words in a syncopated cadence to the audience's delight.

When Leonard, played by Kevin Sosbe, appears on the scene the balance shifts and what was light and fluid, becomes intense, and at times uncomfortable, with the force of Mr. Sosbe's portrayal that dominates the play from that moment on.  Leonard would have us believe he can discern the value of a student's work at a glance, flicking the pages left and right as if they offend his sensibilities.   Not until the final moments of Seminar do we appreciate the world weary soul that lies beneath Leonard's abrasive exterior.

Lace a piece of theatre with enough profanity to make Nicki Minaj blush and I'm on board.  However, it must be used to enhance, underscore or contribute to the theatricality of the piece.  In Seminar all the "cussin" initially makes a point and then just becomes dull.

In her "note from the director" in the playbill, Alicia Dempster states – "Welcome to Leonard's seminar, where humor, cynicism and a little bit of luck collide to explore just what it takes to become a writer."  I didn't see "what it takes to become a writer" portrayed in this play.  The glimpse of these characters and their writing skills or lack thereof is facile and limited to the confines of what can be accomplished in 90 minutes.  Evidently, that was Theresa Rebeck's design in bringing it to Broadway.  Although there are moments when the play appears to stall, Alicia Dempster guides these accomplished actors to a satisfying performance.  

Once again set designer Scott Wyshynski's creative talents blaze through with a set that is a modern, Upper West side abode deftly converting with the simple movement of a wall, to the less than posh living quarters of Leonard.  Impeccable set design.

We are fortunate to have the high caliber of regional actors that appear in our local theaters.   Seminar kicks off 2016 in style and the plays that follow – The Tale of The Allergist's Wife, [title of show], The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Private Lives – promise another entertaining season at TheatreWorks New Milford.

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