Smart ‘Seminar’ incisively analyzes writers 

click to enlarge Seminar
  • COURTESY JENNIFER PALOPOLI
  • San Francisco Playhouse’s “Seminar,” a satire about writers, features, from left, James Wagner, Patrick Russell, Lauren English, Charles Shaw Robinson and Natalie Mitchell.
Trust New York playwright Theresa Rebeck to craft a satirical comedy that delivers much more than you initially expect it to.

In her latest Broadway play, “Seminar,” now at San Francisco Playhouse under the direction of the ever-insightful Amy Glazer, Rebeck examines the artistic soul — or the artistic wannabe — in the marketplace, warts and all.

“Seminar” is about writers: their fears, their sensitivities, their callousness, their competitive spirit, their self-importance, their blind (and not-so-blind) ambition, their perceived talent or lack thereof, their weaknesses, their varying capacities to perpetuate truth and lies.

Four young aspiring New York writers hire the legendary Leonard (Charles Shaw Robinson) for a private fiction class.

Even before Leonard — known as a brilliant editor who was once a brilliant novelist — arrives, the atmosphere is tense.

The group is meeting in Kate’s (Lauren English) palatial, rent-controlled apartment owned by her father — cause for jealousy right there. Kate’s a prickly feminist who has been working for six years on a story about a Jane Austen fan.

The pretentious Douglas (Patrick Russell), who favors phrases like “the interiority and the exteriority,” and who has family connections to literary circles, claims the New Yorker is interested in the story he’s working on. He’s attracted to the sexy Izzy (Natalie Mitchell).

Martin (James Wagner), Kate’s friend and former lover, is attracted to Izzy, too. No one is sure what he’s written.

For Izzy’s part, her story has lots of sex in it.

Leonard, it turns out, is self-centered, sarcastic, demeaning and womanizing as well. He takes pleasure in humiliating the stunned group; after reading the first five words of Kate’s story, he tells her it’s crap.

But as monstrous as Leonard seems, over the course of several seminar sessions that play out in potent, sharply rendered scenes, it’s clear he has uncanny foresight and is hiding a deep anguish of his own — although, truth be told, he’s so unpleasant that you may not care.

In tracing his effect on the four writers, and in probing their relationships with one another, Rebeck reveals lots about the writing game and the ways in which creative people are likely to struggle for footing in the commercial arena — and to come to terms with their own talent and drive.

It’s a given at the Playhouse that the cast will be excellent, and that Bill English’s set will be pitch-perfect. No changes there.

REVIEW

Seminar

Presented by San Francisco Playhouse

Where: 450 Post St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. select Sundays; closes June 14

Tickets: $30 to $100

Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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