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Theater review: ‘Seminar’ at Theatre Three

Seminar

Through May 18

Theatre Three

2800 Routh St., Dallas

$10-$50

7:30 p.m. Thursday & Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 2 p.m. May 7, 2:30 p.m. Sunday and May 17

214-871-3300; www.theatre3dallas.com


Posted 7:54am on Thursday, May. 01, 2014

There are an alarming number of shots fired in this war of words called Seminar — and nearly all of them find their marks.

Theatre Three’s production , which opened last week, is a humor-tinted drama about a quartet of young writers seeking the wisdom of an ill-tempered but well-credentialed novelist. But it turns out that the lessons being taught in this show, which had a six-month run on Broadway beginning in late 2011, go far beyond stringing a few words together.

Each of the budding authors in this play by Theresa Rebeck has a unique set of issues. Kate (Janielle Kastner) hosts the weekly seminars in her rent-controlled Manhattan apartment, which is the envy of her fellow writers. About all you need to know about Kate is that she has been writing the same short story for six years.

Douglas (Jeff Burleson) seems to be on the fastest track of the group. It is established that his unstated last name has weight in literary circles and that The New Yorker magazine is looking at one of his stories. As a result, he is pompous and overbearing beyond belief.

Izzy (Jenna Anderson) is the flip side of Kate’s coin. Where the latter seems totally intellectual, the former is boldly sexual. Between penning a few lines, she uses her sensuality to manipulate all of the males in the play.

Martin (Clay Wheeler) is the most complicated of the group. His disdain for Douglas’ lack of true intelligence, for instance, is well founded. But he is hostile toward Douglas more out of a general jealousy of his minor successes than because of his boorish personality. While Martin might show some promise on the printed page, he is a total idiot in the ways of romance.

We know what we are in for with Leonard (Mark Fickert) — a writer successful enough to extract $5,000 from each of the participants in the seminar but not so successful that he is writing more books instead — pretty much as soon as he storms in. He proceeds to trash Kate’s story after a cursory reading of its first five words. Even poor innocent bystander Jane Austen is thrown under the bus in this first of many tirades directed at the cowed young writers.

What ensues is a series of intense encounters, misdeeds, couplings, shattered alliances and startling revelations. There is even a pretty good laugh or two tossed into the mix at just the right moments.

This production sparkles in every regard. Fickert and Wheeler carry a little more of the load than the rest, but all of the characters have their moments. A play that consists of writers talking about writing is fraught with danger. But company founder Jac Alder’s direction is as spot-on as ever, and prevents things from ever becoming too talky or stagnant.

Overall, the show is sharply written with characters as gripping as its plot. Some patrons may find Leonard’s bitter putdowns a bit tiresome after a while, especially since the seminar’s members seem to be such willing victims (for the most part). Also, the script has an awkward length. The intermissionless show is much longer than the 90 minutes promised in the program, so the audience could use a break during this one.

This script and, to a much lesser extent, this production come across as pretty proud of themselves at times. That’s OK, because a little pride is merited here. Still, there is a self-congratulatory feel about the play that is just a little off-putting.

Any minor complaints, however, are blown away by the quality of the performances in this self-consciously witty play. It is great to see five fine actors working with true peers, while chewing on dialogue that is often as juicy and filling as steak.

Note: In addition to some strong language, this production has a brief moment of nudity.

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