“Seminar” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ October 27, 2014



Actors Theatre, Helen K. Mason Theatre

Phoenix, AZ

What’s better than a raucous comedy that cuts and jabs at the hypocrisy of professional writers but that also makes us think about writers contributions that range from thoughtful and insightful ideas to dull and one-dimensional claptrap.  Such are the idiosyncratic delights of “Seminar,” Actors Theatre’s perceptive but amusing new Theresa Rebeck play that is superbly staged and thoughtfully acted.  This tightly written comedy spins out fervently in less than two hours of thoughtfully amusing chatter.

“Seminar” is about a small writing class taught by Leonard, an uptight, has-been, and crusty old writer.  Four impressionable students, bookish Martin, perceptive Kate, nerdy Douglas, and ditzy Izzy, each paid $5,000 to be harangued, badgered, and taunted by the smart-mouthed author whose contempt for his students establishes his own fears about his waning ability to create fresh stories.

It makes for a tense, taunt, and unpleasantly uptight environment.  How anyone could learn in such a situation is brought up regularly by the students but learn they do in this unusually negative environment.  Playwright Rebeck spews out much hilarious talk as the students and teacher have at it so the laughter is non-stop while the play’s thoughtful purpose never gets forgotten.

May, the stalwart director and artistic leader of Stray Cat Theatre, is in top form as he keeps “Seminar” moving along at a brilliantly fast-paced clip but where all the humorous truths are appropriately emphasized.  May is one of the Valley’s best and most creative directors.  Like most productions May stages, he is aided by a strong acting ensemble.  David Barker’s Leonard delivers his hateful guile with dripping venom and utter disgust for his impressionable students.

Surrounding Barker are four fine local actors who play the very different students with clear comic distinction.  Kerry McCue has a field day as Kate who uses her clever insights to see the frailties in her fellow students but also in her teacher.  Will Hightower’s Martin also sees the others weaknesses but misses his own insecurities until they are rudely pointed out.  Andy Cahoon plays Douglas as an uptight observer who seems to have more smarts than the group he finds himself in.  Kim Richard is the lame brained blonde Izzy, who uses her voluptuous body to get her through life.

“Seminar” is a funny play about the dim-witted uttering’s of supposed intellectuals who are really superficial people without any real depth or perception.  “Seminar” is a charmingly amusing delight and is one of the best comedies to play locally in far too long.  It earns continues through November 9.  For tickets, call the Actors Theatre box office at 602-888-0368 or order online at www.actorstheatrephx.org.

Grade: A