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“Seminar” a very subjective non-review

Seminar, a play by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Sam Gold and starring Alan Rickman, Hamish Linklater, Lily Rabe, Jerry O’Connell,  and Hettienne Park currently at the Golden Theater, in New York City.
I’m going to start by being honest.  This is why I went to see the play:  
Meeting Alan Rickman.  Yes, immensely shallow of me, a stage degree-toting and supposed aficionado of the “theatre,” but that is the truth.  I had built the experience up in my head into this sparkling and witty exchange between myself and Alan and the rest of the cast and instead, I just thrust out my program, and said nothing other than a quiet thank you.  Mercifully someone behind me, engaged Mr. Rickman in chitchat about Snow Cake so I got to hear his voice up close and personal, which was the second reason I went to New York.  He is soft spoken and came across to me to be at least as shy as I am … but that voice!   Sound and voice have become very important to me as of late.  I now wear two hearing aids and have come to realize how subjective sound truly is.  Which brings me to a rather sad truth about my experience at Seminar – I missed about a third of what was being said — not through any fault of the performers and I don’t think it was the acoustics in the theater, I think it was a combination of where I was sitting and the performance of the hearing aids at this particular event.  It was most frustrating to have everyone around me laughing and not having a clue as to what had just been said.
The performances were of course excellent as one expects at this level of professional theater.  Alan Rickman’s performance was wonderful and his voice carried strong and clear and I didn’t miss hardly a word he said (fortunately for me his voice falls in the range I can hear quite well).  Unfortunately for me, Ms. Rabe’s voice is in that tonal range that I have lost and I missed a lot of her lines which from the reaction in the theater were some of the funniest.  But the performance and the character that surprised me the most was that of Hamish Linklater.  His performance had a depth that kept up with Mr. Rickman’s, particularly in the second act.
As for the play, well, I should probably give it another viewing before I pass judgment, but what the hell, I’ll pass judgment anyway. The play really comes into its own in the second act.  When the setting changes to Leonard’s apartment, the tone of the play changes and we get beyond the witty veneer of pseudo-critique that goes on in Kate’s apartment which is all style but not much soul.  The set for Leonard’s apartment made me want to crawl on stage and explore the books, knickknacks and papers, snuggle into a corner and read. It personified the more complex internal life of the writer (BTW my BFA is in set design, I leave theaters humming the scenery). In Leonard’s apartment we come to know the reality of Leonard’s life and of Martin’s and of all writers/artists — being an artist is more than just producing the work by yourself in a small room, its having the confidence to then put that work out into the cold, harsh world and enduring all the gyrations and politics that come along with that.  Easy to say, but hard to do. This is the point in the play where Alan Rickman, as an actor, bites into the character and show us who he is, where he’s been and what has shaped him.  We forget its “Rickman, the Actor,” and feel for Leonard, the artist and man and how he is coping with his life.  Talent and technique – the two “t’s” of acting.  This act is also where Linklater shines as the personification of young, insecure talent.
To be honest, I still don’t know what it was that got Kate into Leonard’s bed (I told you not to read until you saw the play, now you’ve ruined it for yourself).  Granted, all Leonard would have to say is “hello” to get me – heck, who am I kidding, he could say “get the hell out of my face” and I would follow him anywhere… but again I digress into my own little fantasy world.  I still don’t understand how or why Kate’s mind was changed about a man she considered loutish at best.  Both Kate and Izzy sleep with Leonard (not that I blame them), leaving me with the impression that Ms. Rebeck believes female writers must use sex to get their work recognized. Is that what women have to do in this day and age to get their work out there?  It would have been an interesting, albeit a different play, if the Martin character was female.  Would the quality of her writing have been sufficient to entice Leonard to help “Martine” without the sexual undertones?  Like I said, I missed a good bit of what went on so I may be way off the mark here.  Bottom line is I’m going to have to see this play again (I’m collecting funds to travel back NYC – feel free to contribute) or get a copy of the play once it is available (probably the more sensible thing to do).
Here are a few more snaps.  I got the one of Jim Belushi by mistake.  Just as I was about to take AR’s photo, someone said “Great show tonight” and he turned to shake hands and I got this:
Seminar 12/8/11

Rickman and Belushi 12/8/11 Seminar

BTW – I did exchange a few words other than thank you with teh man.  When he had finished, and people were beginning to disperse, he asked “did I get everyone” – which was, I thought, very kind of him, and I piped up “I think so, but you can sign mine again, if you’d like “ which was met with a smile and a “no that’s alright” as he ran for his car… Okay – so it wasn’t witty repartee but I did manage to say something rather than standing and grunting.  I consider that an accomplishment. 

Hamish Linklater 12/8/11 Seminar

Jerry O'Connell!

Alan Rickman 12/8/11 Signing


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2 thoughts on ““Seminar” a very subjective non-review

  1. Frankly, I think just about everyone in the theater was there because of Alan Rickman, whether they’d be honest enough to admit it or not. I’ve been reading a few bits online about AR being involved in some talks to take the play over to London for a bit, and it’s evidently a case of “if the show is to come to London, it must come with AR in the role of Leonard”. He’s what’s pulling the audiences to the play, I think.

    Since I am on the Left Coast, I will not being seeing the play, so I am appreciative of those reviewers posting spoilers. I’ve also been reading bunches of reviews, because I wasn’t happy when it was gradually let slip that this is yet another play extolling the mentor-student between ‘true-serious-artist’ men, and the women are basically mined for laughs and as bed-candy. A couple of reviews have questioned this aspect of the play head-on, which I think is needed, because everybody is in *Oo-oh, Yummy Alan* mode, and is not thinking much at all about the play.

    Here is a relevant paragraph from a review of the play on the Prospero blog at The Economist–

    When “Seminar” first opened on Broadway several weeks ago, the reviews generally concentrated on the challenges of turning reading and writing into compelling drama. But a keen piece of commentary from Claudia La Rocco in the New York Times pointed out how unexpected it was that Ms Rebeck had written a play that seems to celebrate the artistic struggles of two men. The playwright herself had written a sharply worded polemic in 2008 about “Broadway’s glass ceiling”, in which she skewered the presumption that “what art does is celebrate the lives and struggles of men.” Yet Leonard is an unrepentant chauvinist to the end. He offers a moony tribute to Kate’s skills in bed (rather than on the page), and advises Martin to “get a feminist right before she pops”. Ms Rebeck does little with Leonard’s misogyny other than mine it for quips, and her decision to humanise him in the last scene appears to indulge in the kind of sentimental claptrap—even the most noxious chauvinist can be redeemed!—that any number of male writers would only be too happy to provide.

    Here is the link to the Prospero blog full review–


    And here is a link to the Claudia La Rocco review at the New York Times, mentioned in the Prospero review–


    What I also have learned from hare-ing around online is that apparently, AR and the playwright are on rather a friendly footing with one another– Ms. Rebeck styles AR ‘her most intelligent reader’– and while I am totally okay with anyone being friends with anyone else, I have to wonder if the playwright “humanized Leonard” in the last scene in order to make her own fantasy (which she has admitted to harboring)– that of AR reading her dialogue– come true.

    It strikes me as both painful and awful that a woman who wrote stern words about Broadway’s glass ceiling in 2008 turns around and dumps on her own sex twice in “Seminar” in 2011/12– first, by writing about a completely unrepentant and obnoxious chauvinist who never gets anything approaching comeuppance, and second, by attempting to make said chauvinist sympathetic in the last 15 minutes… most likely so that AR would ‘do’ her play (which I’m guessing she probably finds very, very sexy, in a His-Voice-Is-Saying-My-Words “whorish” kind of way, to slant-quote Leonard). I also want to read a printed version of the play, sans Alan Rickman’s voice and presence, because I want to make up my own mind about what Ms. Rebeck is (or isn’t) saying. My instinct is that the play would not survive two seconds without Alan Rickman propping it up.

  2. I love this post finally someone who’s writing, what the hell is going on in the play, because I’m a poor soul without the slightest chance of going and actually seeing “Seminar”.
    Everybody is so anxious these days about spoilers. For me, those “spoilers” are everything, all the reviews that are only used for promotion are not helpfull, when I am longing to see that fabulous play, and know at the same time, that I’ve no chance to do so.
    For example I knew that Leonard was sleeping with Izzy, but I had no idea about Kate. Of course that makes it even more interesting, because I thought she is not his type. You also write that you probably will go and see it again, lucky you, I hope you enjoy it and be able to hear it better next time.
    Please don’t forget to make a Blogpost I’m dying to know what gets Kate into his bed. Pleaaase !!!!!*begging real hard and friendly* 🙂
    P.S.: Do Kate and Leonard kiss on stage??? *dying to know* LOL

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