The third–and best–show that PJ and I saw in New York with our friends last week was Seminar, which stars Alan Rickman as Leonard, a problematic creative writing instructor teaching a private seminar for four up and coming writers. Paying $5,000 for the opportunity to study with him, these four students get more than they bargained for as Leonard upends all of their notions of what it means to be a successful writer.

Seminar is hilariously witty and a crowd-pleaser (even if you’re not an English professor!). Rickman is excellent as Leonard, a boozing, lecherous, washed-up writer who makes end meet by writing magazine stories and teaching these private seminars. He imbues Leonard with life, pathos, and egotism, making him a fully rounded character when he could easily be a one-dimensional stereotype instead.

Here are a few clips from the production:

Hamish Linklater, who we just saw in The Future, is also excellent as a sardonic, know-it-all named Martin who’s too committed to pure language in art to take Leonard’s seminar seriously. He’s also immensely jealous of another, much more professionally successful writer, Douglas, played by Jerry O’Connell, who is talented but mostly depends on his connections to get published.

Martin is also attracted to Izzy, played by Hettienne Park, a vivacious woman who foregrounds sex in her work, but Izzy seems more interested in Douglas and then Leonard. Rounding out the cast is Martin’s long-time friend, Kate, played by Lily Rabe. Kate’s wealthy family rents the apartment in which the seminar takes place, and she’s the first of the writers to be subjected to Leonard’s penetrating criticisms.

The plot of the play if fairly simple: we see what happens as each writer jockeys for Leonard’s approbation while he eviscerates their writing. They become increasingly competitive with one another and alliances switch and become more complicated.

It’s a funny, entertaining work that zips right along. The audience laughed more during this show than during any other we saw in NY this year. All five of the actors are great, and I highly recommend Seminar. It’s the second play we’ve seen by Theresa Rebeck, who also penned The Understudy, another play we really liked and which we saw in 2009.

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