Almost anyone who has ever gone to school, especially at the college level, can relate to a story about the pompous "I'm too good to be doing this" professor who takes a macabre delight in whittling his students down to size.
Thatâ€™s the essence of "Seminar," the Broadway hit by Theresa Rebeck that opened this week at The Worldâ€™s Stage Theatre Company and runs through Aug. 31 at the 10th Street Theatre.
The story is about four would-be writers who have paid $5,000 each for a 10-week session with Leonard, a published and formerly popular writer. These four have each paid dearly to have Leonard read their works and suffer the incredible humiliation he seems to love dumping on their heads.
The play is billed as a dark comedy, and the first act is full of cute writing and many funny moments and situations. Â
The four students are Kate, a wealthy graduate from Bennington who lives in the glorious apartment where the seminars take place; Douglas, a well-connected writer who has visited many a writerâ€™s colony; Martin, a tortured soul who has tried to get into all those writerâ€™s colonies and failed; and Izzy, a vacuous slut who may not love sex but who clearly understands what a powerful tool it can be.
Leonard, played by a masterful Bryce Lord, quickly draws his viper sword as he reads only Kateâ€™s piece only to the first semicolon before pronouncing it useless. As she tries to retaliate, he offers, "Donâ€™t defend yourself. If you are defending yourself, you arenâ€™t listening."
Kate is the conflicted rock of this group while Izzy, all long legs and sex appeal from Gretchen Mahkorn, lounges on a couch and proclaims to all who will listen, "I am going to be famous." She leaves no doubt that she is willing to use every weapon at her disposal to achieve that fame.
Douglas has a pomposity about him at the beginning that is no match once he comes face to face with Leonardâ€™s bitter act. Martin spends almost the entire play unwilling to let Leonard, or anyone else, read what he has written. By the time he does, it is no surprise that Leonard loves what Martin has done, and you can see the joining of these forces on the horizon.
The World's Stage, under the artistic direction of the dedicated Mahkorn, does justice to this play as an ensemble led by Lord. But just as the play tries to point out that there is a lot to learn about art for all of us, there is a lot to learn about theater for this young cast.
They would all have been well-served to watch Lord find the cracks and crevices of his character, understanding that nobody is all one thing. We all have layers, and Lord is the sight and soul of experiences as he discovers each complicated layer of Leonard.
The biggest hurdle for this production to overcome is the virtual one-note portrayal of Martin by David Rothrock. He is a young actor who has become obsessed with the concept of "stage business" and has decided that grabbing his head and opening his eyes in wonder is the appropriate reaction to everything from great sex to getting kicked out his apartment because he canâ€™t pay the rent. He seems like a television actor suddenly thrust onto a stage to play Hamlet.
James Carrington gives his Douglas some emotional peaks and valleys, but he, too seems to have gone line-by-line in his script and determined what kind of action he would use to accompany each word.
Samantha Martinson has some of the funniest lines as Kate, and sheâ€™s got some wonderful timing. But her turn from prim to promiscuous is far too rapid and doesnâ€™t provide any real reason why we should believe she ended up sleeping with Leonard.
And finally there is Izzy, the slattern who puts notches not on her headboard but on the cover of whatever it is she is trying to write. First Leonard falls under her spell, then Douglas â€“ who is rejected â€“ then Martin, who spends a spectacular two weeks in bed with her, and then Leonard once again. The only one who escapes Izzyâ€™s rapacious glare is Kate, and thatâ€™s probably only because Izzy didnâ€™t get around to her.
This production is the first time that David Bohn has ever directed a play, and it shows.
One of the pieces of magic we expect out of a director is the ability to take disparate parts and help put them into a cohesive and coherent whole. This production just seems like so many parts all thrown together onto a coffee table somewhere, waiting for a guest to finish the 5,000 piece puzzle.
Bohn had a tremendous resource at hand, Lord, who is both an experienced and able actor and director. Had Bohn at some point sought his counsel, Lord would mostly likely have been a tremendous help.
Watching Lord in this play gives you a wonderful example of how silence is something occasionally best left alone, not something we must rush to fill before the audience grows bored.
Near the end of the play, Lord is explaining the heart of the art of writing a book.Â "Novels need silence," he says.
True, not just of novels but also of productions of literate and smart comedies.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Aug. 25, 2016
The ability to talk about race is behind the plan for OnMilwaukee's ongoing series of Milwaukee Talks: honest and frank discussions, unedited and focused on the issues of equality and justice. It's also the time for big dreams for the city.
Published Aug. 23, 2016
The Milwaukee theater season is underway and I've been looking through the schedule. I've found 24 productions I'm really anticipating. There are going to be others, and surprises, but my 24 are the productions I can't wait to see and experience.
Published Aug. 18, 2016
As Milwaukee struggles with the issue of how to deal with racial violence, it's critical to find answers to two key questions. The first question is how did Milwaukee become so racist. The second is how do we fix a culture that loves violence.
Published Aug. 16, 2016
Simon Mustaffa is 18 and lives in the Central City. He's off to UWM with a full scholarship and he has strong views about the violence in Sherman Park. For him, it's not a surprise at all; this explosion was a long time coming.
Published Aug. 16, 2016
All In Productions has a history that can be measured in months, but it has already staged some wonderful plays. It has produced five so far, and the next one is directed by artistic director Robby McGhee, who knows where this company wants to go.
Published Aug. 13, 2016
Under the feathery touch of director Marcella Kearns, Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" takes isolation, desolation and disappointment and stands them on their ear, filling the Cabot Theatre with chuckles, laughters and outright roars of fun
Published Aug. 12, 2016
A sweltering hot August night was the perfect atmosphere for the opening night of "No Exit," Jean Paul Sartre's trip through his particular and peculiar vision of hell. The Dale Gutzman-directed production is a searing journey through the existential mind.
Published Aug. 11, 2016
Election day has come and gone and some of the results in the primary contests are satisfying, but also quite a bit troubling. Leading the satisfaction category is the reelection of District Attorney John Chisholm over Verona Swanigan, 65% to 35%.
Published Aug. 9, 2016
If you are young(ish), headed out on a warm Saturday night and want to go drinking Downtown, you have your choice of four distinctly different areas and crowds to join. As an Uber driver, I spend lots of time in all four places.
Published Aug. 4, 2016
First take a tempest. Then take a teapot.Then put the tempest in the teapot. Here's what you get, according to the dictionary. "A small or unimportant event that is over-reacted to, as if it were of considerably more consequence." We've got them.