Falcon Theater’s production of Theresa Rebeck’s 2011 play Seminar opened strong in the small, charming Monmouth Theatre in Newport, Ky. Rebeck, a Cincinnati native now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a triple-threat writer who has had success as a novelist, playwright and TV writer. Ensemble Theatre presented her Mauritius in 2009 and the Cincinnati Playhouse has presented her works Bad Dates, The Understudy and Dead Accounts. And she’s a Cincinnati favorite for reasons beyond her Queen City roots.
Seminar is a tightly crafted, witty and entertaining two-act play with a writing seminar at its core. Four young New York City writers have each paid a legendary writer $5,000 to teach them in a 10-week course in an Upper West Side, rent-controlled apartment belonging to of one of the students. (A slightly saggy set was the only uninspiring aspect of this excellent production.)
Douglas (Alec Bowling), Martin (Ian Kramer), Kate (Merritt Beischel) and Izzy (Angel Zachel) reveal their insecurities as writers and humans under the Mephistophelian tutelage of Leonard (Michael Shooner). Bombastic Douglas is a name-dropping writer with talent. Martin is a broke no-name; he once dated Kate, whose family owns the apartment. She has been working on the same homage-to-Jane-Austen story for six years. Izzy is the sexy provocateur.
It’s a terrific ensemble cast, and each actor is strong and memorable. Shooner is an Equity actor, known to Cincinnati audiences for his work at New Edgecliff Theatre, which he founded; his Leonard is infuriating and ultimately moving. Although all the actors have appeared elsewhere locally except Kramer, who is making his Cincinnati stage debut, they were new to me. Bowling and Zachel, as Douglas and Izzy, are solid and compelling. While all of Rebeck’s characters are well crafted with a full arc, Kramer and Beischel’s Martin and Kate are more central to the script, and they are especially suited to comedic highs and emotionally charged moments when their characters begin to reveal their vulnerabilities.
Seminar is a play everyone can enjoy, but it is most certainly a writer’s play and a must-see for anyone who has ever attempted to reveal his or her voice. However, Rebeck’s gift as a writer is beyond the specific subject matter of Seminar. She presents compelling, funny, difficult characters, each of whom you come to care about because of the very conflicts she creates for them.
SEMINAR, presented by Falcon Theater at Newport’s Monmouth Theatre, continues through Feb. 15.