Just as “Inside Llewyn Davis” was a cautionary tale for those contemplating a career as a singer, the Bethesda Round House Theatre’s production, “Seminar,” puts the fear of God into those thinking they might be the next great novelist. Written by Theresa Rebeck and sharply directed by Jerry Whiddon, “Seminar” is a dark, but often funny look at the creative process and those who think they have the “gift.”
“Seminar” opens with a group of four 20-something writers gathering in a NYC apartment for a writing seminar with renowned novelist, Leonard (Marty Lodge). As we first meet them, save for Izzy (Laura C. Harris), none of them seem terribly likeable–all having that stereotypical NYC pseudo-intellectual aura about them. But as we get to know them, we begin to see that each really has a ton of insecurities–as writers and as human beings. This becomes even more apparent when Leonard enters the fray and begins to critique each one’s work. But Leonard is not without his own problems, coming with his own baggage as well as a mega-chip on his shoulders. What made Leonard the way he is? Do any of these writers have any kind of potential to make it? And just what constitutes success? “Seminar” attempts to address these questions and does so, for the most part, very satisfactorily and entertainingly.
Rebeck knows whereof she speaks. She’s enjoyed success as a playwright and writer for many television series. As the creator of 2013’s “Smash,” she also knows what it’s like to have one’s world upended when things don’t go according to plan. She brings all of this experience to her play, giving “Seminar” a huge dose of reality.
“Seminar” comes with a terrific cast. While all are very good, the standouts in this ensemble are Lodge, Katie deBuys as Kate and Alexander Strain as Martin. deBuys, so wonderful in Woolly Mammoth’s “Stupid F***king Bird” of last season, continues to shine. It’s in her character’s apartment that the seminars meet and, therefore, she’s in nearly every scene. Her face is able to convey a variety of emotions that can be seen from the most distant seats. When her work is criticized, anyone who’s ever tried to write can identify with her reaction. Strain is terrific as the writer who’s really afraid to put his work out there. He actually fears criticism. His Martin is the member of the group with the most potential and the most psychological problems. The chip on his shoulder rivals that of Leonard’s, which might not be too unusual, since he is the most like Leonard. Finally there is Marty Lodge. His character stirs the plot and as such he is fantastic. He very realistically portrays someone who has known what it is to have great success, lose it and try to rebuild. His Leonard is cunning, mean-spirited, belligerent and ultimately genuine.
A shout out must be given to James Kronzer’s sets and Ivania Stack’s costumes. The clothes are absolutely spot-on for this group and rarely does one hear applause for a set change as I did the night I was in the theatre.
If you love great acting in a witty, entertaining play, “Seminar” should be on your radar. It runs through March 2, so there is still time to get your ticket.
Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814, Box Office: 240.644.1100
3 ½ nuggets out of 4