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Theater Review: "Seminar" On Broadway

Katie Buenneke |
April 21, 2012 | 10:39 p.m. PDT

Theater Editor

 Jeremy Daniel)
Jeremy Daniel)
"Writers aren't humans!" Kate exclaims near the end of Theresa Rebeck's new play, "Seminar," now playing at the John Golden Theatre on Broadway. The same thing can be said, to varying extents, of the characters within that play, all of whom are writers, but not all of whom are recognizable as human beings.

"Seminar" follows four aspiring New York writers and their time with a storied professor, who will be leading them in—you guessed it—a private seminar. Kate (Zoe Lister-Jones, "Whitney") is a feminist whose writing is quickly dismissed by the professor, Leonard (Jeff Goldblum, "Independence Day"). Douglas (Jerry O'Connell, "Jerry Maguire") is a basically competent writer who drops his famous uncle's name like a scorched potato (that is, as often as possible). Izzy (Hetienne Park) isn't afraid of using her sexuality to get wherever she needs to in life, while Martin (Justin Long, "He's Just Not That Into You") is reluctant to share his writing with their aggravating mentor. Personalities clash, and the writers' personal lives start to become more dramatic than the fiction they are writing.

As with Ms. Rebeck's other works this year, "Poor Behavior" and "Smash," the play has great dialogue, but there's a sense of hollowness to the whole thing. One yearns for something more, something besides the obviously imminent, to be simmering below the surface. Likewise, Goldblum's characterization of Leonard seems to be just that—a characterization, not a humanization. Leonard comes off more as a collection of mannerisms than a fully fleshed-out human. While he may have been written to be mysterious and aggravating, there's little sense of continuity to him.

 Jeremy Daniel)
Jeremy Daniel)
Luckily, the rest of the cast really shines and delivers the dialogue snappily and with great verve. Long and Lister-Jones stand out in particular, as what may be the two protagonists in the play (it certainly seems like they have the most stage time). Their chemistry with each other is palpable, and they work well with the other actors. Similarly, O'Connell and Park brought a lot to their characters, but the had fewer chances to shine. Regardless, they made a good impression in the time they spent on stage.

The technical elements of the show were all very nice, with especially good attention to detail shown in the scenic design, by David Zinn, which really brought the world of the play to life believably. The music and sound design, by John Gromada, also added to the show.

For the most part, "Seminar" is an enjoyable experience at the time. Afterwards, though, while it's nice to bask in the good performances, it's hard not to wish for something more out of the show. Yes, it's fun to watch, but the deeper meaning behind it all is elusive.

Reach Katie here or follow her on Twitter @kelisabethb.



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