at the theater: seminar

Theresa Rebeck’s new play Seminar is like so much of the fiction that comes in for slaughter from the Hitchens-esque writing teacher played with a deliciously malevolent glee by Alan Rickman: hollow. In fact, to paraphrase the playwright, her play is like the perfect New Yorker story: middlebrow, not too long, intellectually perplexed, and wholly irrelevant. That’s not to say you don’t enjoy it while it plays. Rebeck is great with the one liners. And in a play that’s ostensibly about the creative process (four writers in an overpriced masterclass led by a has-been novelist is a scenario worthy of Sartre) there are ample opportunities for zingers both earned and superfluous. What Rebeck lacks is an attention to detail – not to mention the storyteller’s craft. (What little plot exists hinges on a suspension of disbelief worthy of an Adam Sandler movie.) Current “it” director Sam Gold doesn’t help matters. Is this supposed to be a farce or a comedy of ideas? It’s not outrageous enough to hit the mark as farce and intellectually it’s as thin as weak minestrone. And while we’re at it, why is everyone constantly fidgeting at the wet bar in yet another oversized living room in an unbelievably rent-controlled Upper West Side New York apartment? Crucially what’s missing is believability in both plot and character. It would give the people on stage something worth risking; something relevant, instead of what amounts to a hill of idle, if occasionally amusing, chatter. Hats off to Lily Rabe for suffering the indignity of showing her ass while bringing another dimension to the all-too-simplistic role of a Jane Austen-obsessed feminist who – spoiler alert – fucks her teacher in the end. Alan Rickman is perhaps too good. His sonorous bass imparts Rebeck’s lazy prose with the mistaken semblance of intellectual heft. That’s more weight than this Seminar can bear.

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