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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masaledar in memoriam

When friend and journalist Linda Perney died in late December, she left behind unfillable shoes.  Generous to a fault perhaps, she assigned this unproven writer his first-ever story, calling out of the blue one early December morning with a turn of phrase I will never forget.  I need a favor, she said, could you go to Paris for a week and eat and shop and then just write it all down? All-expense paid, of course.  Uhhh, naturally I said yes.  And yet another travel writer was born. Years later she joked that I’d probably take a press-trip to Perth Amboy if there was a promising spa or restaurant involved and I had to remind her that she more than anyone was responsible for creating the beast.

She loved a good story, and more to the point she recognized a good story – even if it took some serious editing to wrangle it out of a steaming heap of self-conscious, purple prose. (Guilty as charged.) I remember feeling bereft when she left the Daily News.  Not only because my freelance pipeline would most assuredly dry up but because my education under her would be interrupted.  You see, other magazines and papers would print essentially what I wrote, making the occasional edit for space considerations.  Linda would edit for style, substance, and clarity. It didn’t matter how thrilling or brilliant I thought my sentences were, if they weren’t in service to the story they were out.  It sounds trite but it’s true: all the really important stuff about journalism I learned from Linda.

After her memorial service in Manhattan last week, the ushers handed out a program which contained reminiscences by various friends and colleagues, photos, a map of “Linda’s New York.” Inside the back cover was a recipe, which made me smile. (Linda was an amazingly confidant and carefree cook, too.)  Even in death, she had more to share.

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arizona nutshell

The past seven days have been an experiment for me: distilling each day into a single image.  It’s also been a great excuse to travel without the hassles involved in lugging around a laptop and various bits of cable. (I love you iPhone!)  As I prepare to journey back East, I realize that this short paragraph is more than I’ve written in a week. Yet at the same time I feel like I’ve been telling a story all along.

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sunset, top-of-the-world

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