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5 Potential Water Cooler Conversations About Seminar

So Alan Rickman is starring in this think-y play on Broadway called Seminar. It’s by Theresa Rebeck, and it’s about writers, and the notion of what it means to be a writer, which might make your head hurt. It makes my head hurt, and I write. In fact, it might make my head hurt because I write. But when you discuss this play at your office, or with your friends over dinner, these are the five likely conversations you will have. (And yes, we are all going to pretend that you work in an office where people care about things like think-y plays about writers starring Alan Rickman. Because that’s the headspace you like to inhabit on a regular basis.) Here goes:

Alan Rickman is the bomb… even when he’s not playing Professor Snape, who is, of course, the bomb of all starkly dressed cinematic bombs. In Seminar, he plays a writing coach who spends a lot of time alternately verbally abusing, half-encouraging, and sleeping with his students. He is the venerable professional that his young students want to become. Of course, we learn over the course of the evening that his experience has come at great cost. In a single terrifying, sonorous monologue late in the show, he projects out the life path of one of his most talented students. The effect is riveting, and gives a sense of what’s at stake for all of these characters: It’s not just writing. It’s a terrifying, risky life. And even the most talented can come to disastrous ends.

Hamish Linklater has a shockingly hot body… I guess I could pretend that I didn’t notice, because this is a play where we’re all supposed to be thinking with what’s between our ears, but to hell with that. Also, in a play that touches liberally on the theme of what it means to get your art noticed by any means, it bears mentioning. Hamish Linklater is ripped like Jesus, and you actually get to see his rippedness for about half a blissful second, along with his tattoo. Which is real. Because I googled it. Of course, it also bears mentioning that Hamish Linklater gives a great performance here as one of Rickman’s most gun-shy, neurotic pupils.

That lady just flashed you… There is a moment right at the top of the show were Hettienne Park, playing Izzy, a self-professed “edgy” downtown writer, fully pulls her shirt up and shows you her boobs. For a lot longer than you think it’s going to happen. Her point, and the entire point of the character’s existence in the show, is to illustrate how some young writers make their mark simply by having impact, and not by being any good. Anyone who’s ever taken a writing class knows this person. New York is full of her, and the male version of her too. Rickman’s character actually praises her for this, because it’s a method of survival in a line of work where so few survive. But for the sake of your water cooler conversation, I’m guessing that you’ll just be discussing her boobs.

Why is this apartment onstage so much nicer than my apartment…? Much is made of Lily Rabe’s character’s apartment in the show, and with good reason. It’s beautiful and huge. And rent-controlled. There’s art on the walls, a pretty chandelier in the center of the room. This rich girl’s life serves as the backdrop in Seminar for a reason: It’s mostly rich people who can afford to write. Who can spend years tinkering with a single story, like Rabe’s character does? Not Hamish Linklater’s character, who balks at the apartment and the privilege that comes along with it. Props to designer David Zinn for creating a space that makes good sense for these characters to inhabit—and for giving me decorating tips.

Who the hell would ever want to be a writer…? You can extrapolate the ideas in Seminar out to all artists, because the show basically concerns itself with the creation of art, and what that means in our world. Its characters are not so different from a gang of struggling young painters or photographers. And Rebeck teases out the idea well—the endless competition, the stifling of talent by fickle audiences. Somehow, though, this play doesn’t really achieve more than that. Maybe it’s because so few people actually try to make a living making art. In that light, the play’s themes can seem remote. The human relationships in the show work hard to keep things grounded—and strong performances all around help the cause—but if you’re not struggling through the third draft of your novel, you might leave the theater scratching your head.

image: AP Photo/The Publicity Office, Jeremy Daniel

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Hillary December 1, 2011, 5:48 pm

    I would just like to say that, technically speaking, our eyes are between our ears. So feel free to continue to ogle Hamish Linklater. I know I am.

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