Review of Seminar at the Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts

    The publisher of Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar calls it a dramatic comedy. The balance between drama and comedy was shrewdly judged by director Mariah Richardson and her excellent cast in the recent staging by Webster University’s Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts.

    The play by Theresa Rebeck is about four aspiring young fiction writers in a ten-week seminar with an established editor and journalist who published novels when he was younger.

    Douglas, the smug, well-connected nephew of a famous playwright, begins the play by gushing about a writer’s retreat where he had done some writing. Jorge Cordova brought out the humor in Douglas’s preening.

    Martin, who lacks all of Douglas’s advantages, can’t resist sniping at Douglas even though he has contacts that might be useful. Matthew Cox captured the ambivalence in Martin that results in his not sharing his work even though attending the seminar cost $5,000.

    Martin is now behind on his rent and must ask one of the other students, Kate, if he can stay in one of the spare rooms of her nine-room, rent-controlled apartment. Kate is not assertive enough to say no. What Kate felt at this moment and elsewhere was convincingly projected by Kyleigh Grimsbo.

    In sharp contrast to Kate, Izzy is pragmatic, self-possessed, and comfortable with her sexuality, to which the men in the play respond. Carmen Cecilia Retzer leaned into Izzy’s self-confidence.

    The leader of the seminar, Leonard, is brutal in his assessment of the students and their work. After reading no further than the first semi-colon, he demolishes a story Kate had been working on for six years. However excruciating his remorselessness may be for the students, the tone of the conservatory production did not darken during Leonard’s tirades because they were so much fun to watch in Colby Willis’s portrayal.

    Maintaining a comic tone is important in this play because the final scene asks the audience to reconsider what has happened. The mental gymnastics required to rethink the play would have been a greater leap in a production that encouraged a serious view of the action.

    Most of the play is set in Kate’s apartment, in a room is appropriately spacious and stylish thanks to Bobby Julga’s scenic design and Anna Beshoar’s props. The final scene takes place in another character’s apartment, whose personality is nicely reflected in the décor. Katie Radford’s costumes and Corissa Gavin’s hair and makeup also are well suited to the characters. Lou Ritter designed the lighting; Katelyn Gillette, the sound.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Phillip Hamer
    From the left: Kyleigh Grimsbo as Kate, Colby Willis as Leonard, Jorge Cordova as Douglas, Carmen Cecilia Retzer as Izzy, and Matthew Cox as Martin in
    Seminar.