UNC Playmaker’s “Seminar”

(Warning plot spoilers ahead!)

When my parents mentioned wanting to go see “Seminar”, a play about young writers attending a writing seminar, I was intrigued. As an aspiring author myself, I’m always curious how other writers write about the creative process.

Carey Cox as Kate gets the verdict from Ray Dooley as Leonard (photo by Jon Gardiner)

I loved the play until the very last scene. The four aspiring writers each had a distinct personality that I got invested in thanks to talented acting. Their conversations felt real (they sometimes meandered and often teased each other), and I liked the dynamic that developed during the play.

The costuming and set were great. Each costume reflected the character and their progression during the play, particularly with the character of Kate. She began the play dressing to impress the famed writer and editor, Leonard, who is leading their seminar – so pretty dresses and skirts and curled hair. As Kate grew discouraged with the class and with her personal life her outfits became more based on comfort and practicality.

The set was an upper west side apartment belonging to Kate’s parents and felt like a real place rather than a set on a stage. I particularly liked the use of real lights (lamps around the space) on the stage in addition to the theater lighting. It brought the set to life. The set for Leonard’s office was also well done with lots of mementos of all his previously mentioned travels, but since I didn’t love that last scene…

Myles Bullock as Martin and Carey Cox as Kate in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “Seminar” by Theresa Rebeck. (Photo by Jon Gardiner)

The last scene was discordant with the rest of the show. Over the course of the play, the author developed personalities for her characters, particularly Kate, but threw them away in the final scene. Kate’s character begins the play somewhat naively and as a, at times misguided, feminist. Throughout the play, Kate hates Leonard for ripping apart her work in their first class and angrily mocks him with her friends. Her crush on friend Martin is made clear, and Kate reaches her lowest moment in the play when Martin sleeps with Izzy and she still feels her writting isn’t working. That said, Kate is a funny and determined character. Why on earth would she suddenly, at the end of the play, be sleeping with Leonard? There is no demonstrated reason in the scene prior as to why she would not only radically alter her opinion of Leonard, but also her somewhat prudish character. I understand that a sexual awakening is a commonly used trope in fiction to show a character owning themselves, but it felt very forced with Kate and left the impression that the real lesson of the show was (as both female characters in the show slept with Leonard, their much older teacher) that for a woman to become a successful writer she has to sleep with a well connected man. This idea is reinforced by the fact that the only writing that Leonard initially likes is Izzy’s sexually charged story, the sexual aspect of it being mentioned several times as something Leonard likes (after which he sleeps with Izzy).

Prior to the final scene, the characters shared the stage roughly equally, but in such a way that put Kate at the center front. In the last scene, two of these major characters don’t even appear, explained away with one liners from Kate. After the charged penultimate scene, I wanted to see the fallout it caused. Particularly with Izzy as it was suddenly revealed that she lied to Martin about sleeping with Leonard (which is not addressed after that scene??). Suddenly it is all about Martin and Leonard. Martin and Leonard hash it out and deal with their personal failings before Martin finally accepts Leonard’s help. Kate is brushed aside after popping out of the bedroom looking for her bra and panties *giggle* (because they have, paraphrasing the script, been going at it for two days) and then telling Martin to give Leonard a chance because he’s fixed things for all their friends (the only closure the show gives Douglas and Izzy). What happened to the great Kate from the rest of the play?

Maybe part of the problem is that I didn’t root for Leonard. Even after his monologue at the end of the play, I still didn’t like him. He was bitter and resentful and I didn’t feel that much sympathy for him after he revealed the plagiarism charge against him was falsified by a student because as a professor he had been sleeping with his students (why is every female in this play sleeping with this man??). It felt like by the end of the play we were supposed to understand his character and why he was harsh. I can understand being hard on writers, people only improve when they are given honest, sometimes brutally honest, critique. I can’t understand him being, frankly, mean and taking out his anger on his students.

L to R: Schuyler Scott Mastain as Douglas, Allison Altman as Izzy, Ray Dooley as Leonard, Carey Cox as Kate and Myles Bullock as Martin in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “Seminar” by Theresa Rebeck. (Photo by Jon Gardiner)

Basically the production was spot on great and 90% of the script was also great. It was funny and provocative and the performances were stellar. But that last scene just left a sour taste in my mouth.

Visit http://www.playmakersrep.org/ for information about tickets and this specific production.

Stay magical readers!

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