The prolific Theresa Rebeck's latest play is set in the academic world. More specifically, it takes place in a sprawling rent-stabilized Manhattan apartment where a prickly professor conducts a graduate creative writing seminar. The teacher in question, Leonard (played by Alan Rickman), is so harsh and rude to his students that one wonders why they would pay him thousands of dollars to attack them so personally. Despite able performances from Rickman and his costars, Rebeck's Seminar isn't worth the price of admission, either.
Lily Rabe plays Kate, the young rich girl who has had the good fortune to inherit a large, cheap apartment. Also taking the class is Douglas (Jerry O'Connell), who has had some success and spent time at writers colonies like Yaddo and MacDowell. Kate's friend Martin (Hamish Linklater) takes an instant dislike to Douglas, whose name-dropping and bragging are obnoxious. Both Martin and Douglas are smitten with Izzy (Hettienne Park), who is confident about both her looks and her writing.
One major problem with the play is that none of the characters are likable. Leonard seems to enjoy belittling the work of his students. He's particularly hard on Kate, in part because she's a privileged preppy. Not surprisingly, Leonard proves to be an old lech with no qualms about coming onto his students. Kate is somewhat sympathetic because of the way Leonard treats her. But she is, as Leonard points out, something of a "whiner." His critique of Martin being a "pussy" is also, unfortunately, pretty accurate. Meanwhile, Douglas is too full of himself, and Izzy's morals are as questionable as Leonard's. All in all, this is not a group you want to spend too much time with – even if the play runs a brisk hour and 40 minutes.
On the plus side, much of Rebeck's dialogue rings true. "That's a little reductive," Kate says during a debate about the merits of Jack Kerouac. And the action moves right along, thanks to Sam Gold's crisp direction. At time it moves too quickly. As has been mentioned in other reviews, all the characters read with superhuman speed, then pass judgment on each other's work after having time to read no more than a paragraph.
The actors are certainly talented, but they've all done better work in other plays and movies. Rickman delivers his lines so rapidly in the early scenes that it's as though he wants to get the play over with so he can go to dinner. And Rabe, one of our best young theater actors, puts on an annoying, nasally voice that makes Kate even less likable than necessary. Linklater is a fine stage actor but comes off as too high-strung here. He, O'Connell and Park are all making their Broadway debuts.
While this Seminar offers food for thought, it could have been far more stimulating.