Jacksonville University Department of Theatre Review
Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom [email protected]
The Jacksonville University Theatre Department presented the dark comedy “Seminar” at Swisher Theater during October 15 -18, 2015. The play was written by Theresa Rebeck, who previously received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for the play “Omnium Gatherum,” which had a brief off-Broadway run in 2003, and was performed locally several years ago at St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre. If you are a TV fan, you have no doubt experienced her talents as a writer for “Smash” and “NYPD Blue.” “Seminar” opened in NYC in 2011 with Alan Rickman as Leonard; he was later replaced by Jeff Goldberg.
“Seminar” is set in present day New York and follows four young novice fiction writers, Izzy, Kate, Douglas, and Martin, as they study with Leonard, a perceived expert in the field, during the course of a ten-week writing workshop. The workshop is held in Kate’s apartment on the Upper West Side, at a cost of $5,000 ($500 per session) for each participant.
The ambitious writers, played superbly by Jacksonville University students, shared one common goal: to become successful authors able to publish and sell their work. Each had unique personalities. Marissa Harris, in her first role at JU after a recent transfer from Arkansas, portrayed Izzy, an intelligent, sexually uninhibited young woman with great ambitions.
JU junior Matt Robertson is Douglas, a fast talker, who is related to a famous playwright and has had some minor success in writing but appears lacking in confidence.
Sophomore Brandon Paris has performed with local community theatres in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Clybourne Park,” as well as in JU’s “The 39 Steps.” He plays Martin, the most complex of the students. We wonder how he ever came up with the fee for this seminar, as he is so broke he asks Kate if he can move into one of the extra bedrooms in her apartment. Martin is an angry man who refuses to bring in his work for assessment.
Rounding out this cast is Leonard, the central character, played to perfection by JU graduate Erik DeCicco, who is now on JU’s staff as an instructor and is directing the upcoming musical “Weird Romance” in November on this same stage. Of the many characters we have written about over the years, none has been in quite the same class as Leonard, who gave us considerable practice in the use of descriptive adjectives: Leonard could easily be described as loathsome, obnoxious, egotistical, erudite, abusive, creepy, sneering, dismissive, disengaged, and sexist. DeCicco may have been a bit young to play a man of years, but the addition of a bit of gray to his sideburns and a beard solved that. Nevertheless, DeCicco is also engaging and good-looking, which made the sexual high jinks his character initiated during the course of the play believable.
Since this is an after-the-fact review, we feel free to fill you in on Leonard’s background: one of the students has researched his past and learned that his reputation was severely damaged after he was found guilty of plagiarism. While his literary work is no longer saleable, he has managed to land a writing assignment requiring frequent travel to Africa to cover political upheaval. .
The final scene takes place in Leonard’s apartment, as Kate exits after two days of sex with him. As she exits, she utters a sentence that sums up this play: “Fraud is a way of life in a capitalistic culture!”
The large spacious apartment was well conceived by Brandon Lettow. In the last ten or fifteen minutes, the set is quickly cleared of furniture and revolved and the modest efficiency apartment of Leonard appears.
This play was superbly directed by Deborah Jordan and the acting style of the cast seemed strikingly true to the demands of the script. The humor was genuine, and it also contained many truths about the obstacles those who hope to succeed as writers may encounter. We can see this play being done by colleges and universities, as it has an intellect foundation, and would resonate with students enrolled in creative writing courses, and many others as well.
The Production Staff included: Lighting Designer Ben Wilson, Stage Manager John Cadwell, Technical Director & Sound Engineer Brandon Lettow, Deck Chief Kyrstin Creswell, Sound Board Operator Cierra London, Light Board Operator Cameron Kirkland.