by Hugh Hunter
The prolific writing career of playwright Theresa Rebeck includes novels as well as many works for theater, film and television. She reflects playfully on what it means to be a writer in “Seminar,” a comedy now running at The Drama Group in Germantown.
Both lighthearted and dour, “Seminar” is a story about four young writers in Manhattan who each slap down $5000 to attend a 10-week seminar conducted by Leonard, a well known literary figure. They all struggle to keep their sense of artistic purpose in the midst of egoism, jealousy and discord.
We become well acquainted with the writers before Leonard ever shows up. They gather in the posh apartment of Kate (Jackie Sherman), who spent the last six years writing one short story. From the start the frailties of these young folks are comically apparent.
Douglas (Steven Roberson Butler) holds forth with pompous talk about harmony and form in architecture. Unlike the others, he has an entrée into the literary world through family connections. Martin (Adam Corbett) hates him at first sight. Martin has talent but no business connections, and his love life is a mess.
The two alluring women in the writers group bring that out. Izzy (McKenzie Jones Clifford) is more interested in using her considerable sex appeal than applying herself to art. While Kate has an unspoken interest in Martin that Martin himself is too self-absorbed to see.
Then Leonard (Dante Zappala) shows up. Like a marine drill sergeant, he gets in everyone’s face with “tough love” talk. Tension builds as he comes off more like a predator than a teacher. There is no plot in “Seminar” to speak of. The action consists in the way the characters play off each other, revealing personal secrets and making small self-discoveries along the way.
Directed by Marc C. Johnson, “Seminar” runs for under two hours and could play just as well without the intermission. The easy flow of the show is assisted by the light and sound design of Kim Pele, which makes subtle comment on the action without drawing attention to itself.
The production is well-cast. There is no “star” in “Seminar;” every character has his/her shining moments where they emerge as distinct personalities. As distraught Kate, Jackie Sherman’s deft comic sensibility stands out and does a lot to hold the show together.
Then again, except for party girl Izzy, everyone is distraught. “Seminar” is a dark comedy.
For most of the evening it sets up as a parody of the artistic milieu of the Upper East Side. It only changes at the end when Rebeck turns cantankerous Leonard into a misunderstood good guy so that everyone gets to go home with a happy ending.
The Drama Group is located in The First United Methodist Church of Germantown at 6001 Germantown Ave. “Seminar” will run through Nov. 29. Tickets available at the door. More information at www.thedramagroup.org.