Hot and Bothered Art: SEMINAR

Seminar Pictures

Liz Hayes* and Jordan Ahnquist*; Photo Credit: David Costa

Presented by Stoneham Theatre
by Theresa Rebeck
directed by Weylin Symes

Stoneham, MA
Sept. 12 – 29th, 2013

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Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Stoneham) You can create memorable characters on stage and just let them be who they are, and they can be like fun guests at a cocktail party, hilarious and aimless.  Or you can create wooden characters on stage and then let them come at least somewhat to life, which can win you points among theatergoers who are just happy not to fall asleep in the second act.  But it’s awfully difficult to create memorable characters and then let them struggle, flounder, and grow on stage.

Seminar at the Stoneham Theatre is that rare production that both piques our interest and takes us on a romp of a ride.  It’s as if the production set off to check all the boxes for the checklist of good theater.

Strong characters?  Check.  We are mesmerized the moment one bad-ass teacher, Leonard (Christopher Tarjan), comes and destroys the illusions of four wannabe writers with his frank talk.  Leonard owns the stage the moment we realize that anything could come out of his mouth at any time, and we spend the rest of the play wondering if he’s wantonly cruel or dosing out the tough love.  Before our eyes the four writers (the rest of the excellent cast) must wrestle with their deep, deep illusions of the creative process and re-form themselves into full human beings.

Strong pacing?  Check.  No one is allowed to wallow here, and this cast of five obviously is reacting instead of acting in nearly every beat of this play.  The pace of this 90 minute production unfolds like a conversation with a genius who has had too much espresso.  You understand every word, but it’s a roller coaster discussion.

Sex and fun?  Ohhhh…yes.  This is a frisky production, one that uses copious amounts of FCC-unfriendly words and a good flash of the mammary glands to provoke.  This makes it edgy, but it wouldn’t be fun if the play wasn’t so damn gleeful.  Sure, the play is about suffering for divine truth in the written word, but that doesn’t mean it forgets that divine truth is written by imperfect slobs.

Perhaps the most delightful and maddening part of this play is how playwright Theresa Rebeck and director Weylin Symes use stacks of manuscripts as perfect Macguffin stand-ins of great literature throughout the play.  We don’t know what’s on the pages that stun Leonard at several points in the play, but we know it’s really good.

By never revealing her hand, Rebeck establishes deep rapport with an audience of frustrated artists.  She knows damn well she has created something very good for the stage, and she knows damn well it won’t be remembered in 400 years.  By having her characters stare open-mouthed at great literature she can’t convey or even fathom writing, she shows she’s just fine with that, fuck you very much.

Go see Seminar.  It’s a riot.

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