SummaryWriting about writers is a tricky proposition. The painful struggle of an individual to express oneself on paper doesn’t always compel audiences. So Theresa Rebeck is quintetly audacious in constructing her new play Seminar around five scribes: four would-be authors and one literary luminary whose star has dimmed to the point that he's now teaching private writing seminars. That the latter, Leonard, is played with delicious ferocity by Alan Rickman, the steely British actor who snarled his way through the Harry Potter films as Professor Snape, means there's no glad-handling, and indeed much of the play's laughs come from his dry put-downs of their fictional efforts and the disappointment, confusion and anger that ensue.
Rebeck's writing and Sam Gold's vigilant direction promise a spry and smart production. Besides Rickman, the skilled cast features Lily Rabe as the easily discouraged Kate, who's been grinding away at the same story for years; Hamish Linklater as the easily disgruntled Martin, who never shares his work with the class; Jerry O'Connell as the pedantic and well-connected Douglas; and Hettienne Park as wannabe hipster author Izzy.
As the weeks go by, the class comes to resemble a Project Runway without the fashion show. Leonard's gruff but truthful assessments boost or destroy his charges' confidence, and their antics outside of class threaten to overshadow their work. Rebeck's weakness is ending her plays, and her raucous premise deflates as Leonard and Martin come to a too-pat understanding. Leonard seems to be not just a writing instructor but a seer who can accurately assess his students' talents in a matter of weeks. Without Snape's wand in his hand, it's a bit much to believe.
By Diane Snyder
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Alan Rickman, Jerry O’Connell, Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Hettienne Park
John Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036