BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
Seemingly tailored to fit Alan Rickman’s sardonic charms, “Seminar” may suit the actor very well but the material itself is flimsy stuff.
The actor’s fans no doubt will be pleased to see the ever-sonorous Rickman dominate the new play that opened recently at the Golden Theatre. Everybody else is likely to find “Seminar” an unenlightening session with a somewhat tiresome curmudgeon.
Rickman portrays the disdainful Leonard, a once-eminent writer since reduced to teaching composition seminars at $5,000 per student. In a series of brief scenes following several weeks of class, Leonard is depicted as brutally criticizing his four students’ works and potential even as they rebel, despair or otherwise writhe under his verbal lashings.
Lily Rabe plays the well-off Bennington graduate whose swank Manhattan apartment is the scene for most of the 100-minute story. Jerry O’Connell lounges around as a well-connected careerist. Hettienne Park embodies a provocateur in more ways than merely literary. Hamish Linklater is the brooding would-be novelist who perhaps suffers most from Leonard’s caustic observations.
Leonard becomes sexually involved with one of them, of course.
Theresa Rebeck, the playwright, has delivered clever comedies like “The Understudy” and “Mauritius” in recent seasons. “Seminar,” however, is not among her better works. Expect one of those glib plays about authors where a fleeting glance at somebody’s manuscript elicits immediate howls or hosannas.
While Rebeck’s fluent dialogue is enjoyably snappy, her squabbling characters are fairly sketchy and the story’s resolution strains credulity. The writing is so darned slick that were the actors not so sure-footed about their business, they’d likely slide right off the stage.
Anchored by two good-looking sets designed by David Zinn, the lightweight piece is very well-acted under Sam Gold’s quickly-paced direction. Linklater’s intensity and Rabe’s luminous appeal give their characters some punch but they tend to pale a bit in the magnetic Rickman’s impressive presence.
His mouth twisting in derision, his dark, tawny tones caressing the snidest of remarks, the leonine Rickman coolly commands every onstage moment. While “Seminar” is instantly forgettable, Rickman’s masterful performance certainly is something to savor, which is rather like sipping a rare liqueur after finishing a McDonald’s Happy Meal.
“Seminar” continues an open-end run at the Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.seminaronbroadway.com.