Four students wanting to develop and enhance their writing sign up for an expensive and limited 10-week course with a well-known writer only to find out that as each week progresses, they discover the weaknesses in their approaches and shed layer upon layer of their individualites in their efforts to learn, excel, and elicit positive feedback from their instructor.
Seminar, a new, controversial, adult-oriented play written by Theresa Rebeck brings four naive college grads together with the famous, Leonard as they try to enhance their writing careers. Seminar opened, Oct. 19 at The Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City and brings the recent New York play to local audiences.
Producing Artistic Director, Cynthia Levin, announced earlier her pleasure in securing all the plays for The Unicorn’s 40th season and boasted that for the first time in her tenure she secured the rights to every play she wanted for this signature season. Seminar is the second of the 2013-14 season and continues the high caliber and challenging shows she produces.
The task of bringing Seminar to the Unicorn stage fell into the creative hands of director Theodore Swetz, who molded a cast of five into a seamless performance that runs just more than 90 minutes without an intermission. Swetz’s actors created distinct characters from different backgrounds and personalities who meld in a cohesive team to uncover insecurities encountered by so many. Seminar, co-produced with UMKC Theatre examines the egos of artistic-minded young adults as they react to the cruel, but harshly real, criticism of their literary coach.
One character, Izzy, portrayed by Chioma Anyanwu , uses her sexuality as an asset and defense mechanism for acceptance. Another character, Douglas, developed by Noah Whitmore, wants to overcome a family name to make his individual mark to find notoriety. Another student, Kate, played by Courtney Salvage, needs to let go of past mediocre work in order to find a fresh voice and motivation for forward movement. And, finally, Martin, crafted by Logan Black, just thought he needed to hone his skills to make his statement to the world.
As each student steps forward with his or her work, each faces the scrutiny of the obsessively abusive Leonard. As each reading beings forth a slew of unintended and unforeseen criticism, their individual ego causes hesitation and thwarts their progress. Each one of the actors carefully and slowly reveals the hidden layers of his or her character. Each brings a deeper understanding of the hope, anticipation, and dejection experienced at the hands of Leonard. While bitingly hurtful, comedy and laughter keep the show ticking along as a well-crafted comedy.
Who succeeds, who fails, who grows, who withers all depend on the irreverent teacher, Leonard. In a performance that allows Robert Gibby Brand to showcase his extraordinary acting skills, he absolutely shines. He wears the role from his initial entrance through his curtain call. Brand shocks the audience with his bold characterization of Leonard. His questionable teaching style combined with his unsavory past reveal how the elixir of anticipated artistic achievement, the intoxication of fame, and the devastation of individual failures can affect talent. Brand’s suburb characterization reveals deeper and deeper levels of the character and keep the humor of the situation at the forefront of Seminar.
Seminar, a comedy filled with hearty laughs from the audience, keeps the viewers focused and awaiting a twist to darker, astounding turnabouts as each character faces the literary criticism of their teacher.
Expect to laugh, and expect to feel the pain of each character as they face the terror of their instructor. Each learns something from the seminar, even though it’s not what they always signed up to learn. What they encounter becomes far more than they anticipated. Acceptance and success take many turns, they learn.
Seminar positively challenges the audience to look at where success lies. The language of the show definitely screams for mature audiences and absolutely not for children. A brief scene with topless nudity may discourage some from attending. But, by knowing the show strongly depends on adult language, sexual situations, and some nudity open minds can make informed decisions.
The show provides strong characters, fantastic acting, and a beautiful relationship among the on stage actors. They work so well together that the audience can feel their energy as they draw and support each other throughout the work. The pain and hurt they feel touches everyone.
No one likes to feel exposed or ridiculed publicly. All of the characters face that in Seminar. The old adage, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” comes to mind as all of the characters in Seminar demonstrate. The show comes highly recommended for people who like to be challenged, educated, and grow.
Seminar runs through Oct. 30 at The Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City. For times and ticket information go to: unicorntheatre.org.