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Beck Center premiere examines characters who create characters

The Beck Center for the Arts is presenting the area premiere of “Seminar.” This play goes inside the heads of four aspiring fiction writers who engage a mentor to help them with their careers and product. A comedy, “Seminar” is more about the characters who create the fictional characters than about their process. It is described as a comedy, but be aware that many of the laughs are obscurely buried in the increasingly more preposterous relationships between the students and with their mentor. “Seminar” resides quite nicely in the intimate Studio Theater, as we watch the evenings of brutal criticism unfold.

At the first meeting, we are introduced to Kate, who lives in a rent-controlled New York apartment. Lara Knox has never been better than in this role where she begins as the gracious hostess and eventually succumbs to the level of “I’ll do anything to get published.” Pretentious Douglas gives his philosophies of writing while continually typing at a keyboard. Brian Gale, suitably bespectacled, at first seems completely confident that his works will end up in the New Yorker magazine. Aily Roper is Izzy. She dresses provocatively and seems more interested in making out than in making a buck as a writer. Finally, down-on-his-luck Martin is out of work, out of an apartment and looking for a place to crash, but still hangs on to the dream that his talent will get him his “big break” through writing. Andrew Gombos plays Martin like a man of mystery within whom seethes a lavalike combination of emotions, with no indication of when they will erupt and spill over the others.

Under the direction of Donald Carrier, this production of “Seminar” is smartly staged, with movement that opens up the action to the audience. A drink cart is the focus for the group who both come together and then split into weird alliances after the eccentric and brutal teacher enters the scene. Scott Plate is Leonard, a supposedly successful writer on the international scene. Under the guise of being brutally honest about the quality of the work that the students choose to share, he reveals a varied and at times mediocre past of his own.

Without intermission, “Seminar” is a long one-act play, but the lengthy scenes sustain the comedic and the dramatic intentions of playwright Theresa Rebeck. Be aware that the comedy is sophisticated and that a lot of it arises out of mean-spiritedness. It is not a play for children because of the language. I found a lot of chuckles and some belly laughs in the dialogue and the situations. There were also some plot turns that surprised me, and the rest of the audience, too, based on their reactions. “Seminar” runs through June 29 in the Studio Theater.

Brian Gale, Andrew Gombas, Lara Knox, Scott Plate and Aily Roper are in the Beck Center production of "Seminar." (Photo courtesy of Pat Miller)

 

 

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