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"Seminar" show #875

Teresa Rebeck’s riveting living room drama, Seminar, is being given a collegiately capital treatment at Fresno State University, which continues through this Saturday night. Directed by Brad Myers, the ensemble cast of young adult-age writing students, led by teacher Leonard, is acted with dynamite commitment and a driven pace that Myers gets his cast to maintain from start to finish. While the cast of students receives a lesson in writing—albeit not without insulting and abusive lambasts from Leonard—the audience gets treated to first-rate playwriting, directing, and performances.

For recommended, potentially-professional writers-in-waiting, five thousand dollars a pop, and a nine-room New York apartment is what it takes to get Leonard, former successful writer-turned-editor-and-teacher, to finesse and edit these writers and their works into a potential career. Led by Terry Lewis as Leonard, the play has equal parts guffaws of shock and laughs of release, which Lewis handles in hearty form to pace his numerous monologues of criticism. Rebeck’s writing of Leonard is genuinely captivating in how we get to see that Leonard isn’t just a has-been who has accepted his fate but as much a reader of people and the room as he is the workshopping-fiction he edits. Lewis’s spitfire delivery of Leonard’s insults, encouragements, and know-it-all anecdotes are essential in presenting an honest and nuanced Leonard. 

(The Kerouac Cast-Standing-Terry Lewis (Leonard); Sitting, top to bottom: Lindsay Anton (Kate), Jimmy Haynie (Douglas), Paris Richards (Izzy), and Quincy Maxwell (Martin); Photo source: University Theatre)

Jimmy Haynie is a wonderfully tuned Douglas, the writer in the group with, perhaps, the most potential for success, at least in Hollywood, according to Leonard. Haynie’s opening monologue sets the tone for the type of characters we will spend the next two hours with, and his delivery of Douglas’s wordy, expressive evaluation of the writing world is expertly embodied. Paris Richards is a terrific Izzy, the object of Douglas, Leonard, and Martin’s (the other gentleman in the cohort) lust. However, Richards doesn’t fall into a one-note role of the unassuming genius who happens to be the “hot one” in the group—an appropriate take, since Rebeck has written a far more interesting character than the surface suggests—but instead uses the responses to the three men’s advances—and, for some, triumphs—to show how she is as much similar to and different from Leonard. The agency in Richards’s depiction of Izzy is apparent in her acting turns and reactions, making for a fully realized performance that finely balances the rest of the intellectualisms the cast spouted.

(Quincy Maxwell (Martin) and Terry Lewis (Leonard); Photo source: University Theatre)

Quincy Maxwell is stellar as Martin, the last student to let his writing fall under the scrutinizing eye of Leonard. The play slowly but surely follows Quincy more and more and wraps up with a perfectly crafted final scene between him and Lewis in Leonard’s apartment. Martin’s journey is most interesting and applicable to any artist scared to fail at their potential success and unknown genius, and Maxwell handles the arc with gripping aplomb. Rounding out the cast is Lindsay Anton as Kate, the hostess of the group, who has a crafty, complicated, and compelling trek of earnest writer, realistic woman, and privileged-without-entitlement traits to balance; Anton balances the tall order of her multi-layered character superbly. Her comedic chops and alluring silent moments of reflection and acceptance fill the space and moments beautifully. 

(The Ginsburg Cast- L to R: Carlos Oliviera Sanchez (Martin), Marikah Christine Leal (Kate), Grant Hill (Douglas), and Paulina D. Marin-Contreras (Izzy); Photo source: University Theatre)

Rene Nielson’s gorgeous scenic design envelops all the praise mentioned above, with the singular scene change nearly garnering applause at my Wednesday night performance. It serves the text by allowing the audience to feel cozy and intimately on edge, a dynamic that punches with Joel Alaniz Ayala’s specific and well-calibrated lighting design. With only a few chances left to see Seminar, make your appointment with Leonard and company if you value terrific theatre done thoughtfully and with thorough attention to detail. 

Note: This production is double-cast. I saw the Kerouac cast. The Ginsburg cast has Carlos Oliviera Sanchez (Martin); Marikah Christine Leal (Kate); Grant Hill (Douglas); Paulina D. Marin-Contreras (Izzy); Terry Lewis (Leonard).

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