Writers will find much familiar in Theresa Rebeck’s SEMINAR, which brilliantly satirizes writerly blowhards (a proportionally large subset) and the self-seriousness necessary to pursue this art. Burnt-out, self-aggrandizing Leonard (Rufus Collins) conducts a weekly seminar with four aspiring and pretentious authors who have paid $5,000 a head for the chance to have their writing—and entire beings—torn to shreds by his condescending barbs. Rebeck’s script runs with Neil Simon-esque one liners (“it wasn’t much of a lie: nobody believed it but you”) and intellectual wit (“you said anyone who doesn’t like Kerouac is hung-up about sex, and I’m the one who’s reductive?”), and is satisfying in its pace and humor. But emotions and character development rarely rise above the superficial, a flaw exasperated by an unsubtle production.
Luigi Sottile lights up early scenes as preppy blowhard and Genevieve Perrier is expressive as Kate, a wealthy Manhattanite and budding Jane Austin (though her old-money apartment is too bourgeois—an Ikea footstool?—in Kevin Rigdon’s set design). Chemistry between actors is slight, however: when we are told a romantic crush is obvious “to everyone in the same room”, it should be apparent to the audience as well. Collins excels when the play does mine interior emotion—in a long, increasingly pointed monologue on the pitfalls of success—but this is the only moment when the play reaches the high-standard of writing its angsty characters seek. March 15 to April 14, 2013. philadelphiatheatrecompany.org
(In light of the recent stagehands strike, it’s also worth mentioning a superbly executed scene change. Kudos and welcome back.)