A Touch of Poison Does a Body Good

Golden Theatre, NYC

Walking away from a theater with genuine joy and excitement for what you have just seen is an all-too-rare and cherished occasion. Between its solid cast, able directing, tight script, and high production quality, Seminar provides just that kind of experience. Looking for any significant holes in this taut piece of private study would prove difficult, and while the play's exploration is not a vast one, it covers the ground it treads thoroughly.

While Alan Rickman may be known to the masses as Snape from the Harry Potter movies, his abilities on the stage prove that he is a master at his craft. As Leonard, Rickman portions out biting criticisms to his four waiting pupils, inhaling disappointment and exhaling poison, yet never completely extinguishing the faint possibility that he harbors some faint flicker of vulnerability burning beneath his jaded surface. To maintain any positive promise or likeability in such a character is no trivial task, yet Rickman makes it look easy. His deliveries are natural and unlabored, his presence relaxed yet commanding; watching him shed his hardened exterior as he melts at the image of his naïve, younger self is a captivating moment.

Hamish Linklater eases into the role of Martin, unmistakably betraying his romantic sentiments with incidental gestures and making comic connections with wry deliveries. Lily Rabe portrays a sympathetic Kate, frustrated with both her writing and love life; Hettienne Park's Izzy is an unabashed opportunist with her skill divided evenly between her pen and her body, both aimed decidedly at advantage. Jerry O'Connell plays a fool oblivious to the laughter surrounding him as the self-deluded Douglas, puffed up with the clout of his family connections. There are no weak links in this cast, their interaction is organic, and the connection between the characters they bring to life rings true. 

What the subject of novelists and their literary aspirations may lack in universal importance, playwright Theresa Rebeck makes up for with developed characters and honest dialogue. Rebeck's grasp of language and her ear for exchange is guileless, and the words, thoughts, and feelings she gives to her characters are innately their own. Her commitment to the subject conveys a tight personal connection to the scenario and an understanding of its subjects that only proximity can provide. Director Sam Gold maintains a driving pace which doesn't push but also never lets up, doing well to pass on an intermission as the stakes of the piece aren't high enough to sustain any delays. Gold has succeeded in making his actors comfortable with one another and the space they inhabit, rendering any suspension of disbelief a minor effort. David Zinn's scenic and costume design breathes with a lived-in quality and functions magically for a swift transition that hints at the disciplined and less-than-glamorous life that awaits a true writer.

Seminar is an engaging piece, particularly poignant for any possessed by the demon that inspires one to pick up a pen and attempt to make poetic sense of this world with words. A long and healthy run is well deserved, and any change in this cast would be difficult to prove an improvement. - C. Jefferson Thom

The Golden Theatre is at 252 W. 45th St. in Manhattan

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.

cj_thom Sierra Club