Jeffrey Finn, Jill Furman
Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater
Jerry O’Connell, Hettienne Park
By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Sam Gold
252 West 45th Street
New York, NY
Scenic & Costume Design: David Zinn
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Original Music & Sound Design: John Gromada
Casting: MelCap Casting
Marketing & Advertising: Serino/Coyne
Press Representative: The Publicity Office
Production Manager: Peter Fulbright
Production Stage Manager: Charles Means
Exec. Producer/General Manager: 101 Productions, Ltd.
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 19, 2011 Matinee
Nine gorgeous rooms on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, one or two rooms with a river view, cushy and thick wood furniture, an esoteric seminar for upcoming young writers, what could go wrong? Well, if only Woody Allen had written this play. Theresa Rebeck’s intermission-less oeuvre is filled with literary grandstanding and sharp insults. It lacked the mesmerizing force of even a doctoral seminar, of which I know much. I remember my own Dissertation Advisor at Columbia, who crossed out and question marked whole pages of rag bond typing, with red magic markers. Those terrifying days were filled with more dramatic repartee and black humor, it seemed, than this new Broadway show. In fact, the only audible gasp from today’s matinee audience was at the revelation that the nine West Side rooms rented for $800/month, under original rent control law, an “insider’s” New York sort of drama.
This upper-crust rental find is owned by Kate’s (Lily Rabe) family, and Kate hosts the weekly seminars, which cost the quartet of participants $5000.00 each. Kate is a Bennington grad, and she has invited three other participants. Jerry O’Connell, as Douglas, is well-dressed and seems to live in Goldman Sachs. Hamish Linklater is Martin, hyper, impassioned, and eager. And, Hettienne Park is Izzy, one of the most irritating and caustic characters on stage this season. The four participants await Leonard (Alan Rickman), the seminar leader, a brutish, pompous, crude character, who seems predatory in earning $20K to glance at a quartet of scripts and verbally desecrate them in the moment. Leonard is also predatory in playing sexual politics, bedding the women and competing with the men, in sadistic, senseless games. The women, as well, play their cards, with Izzy lifting her shirt for effect. As Leonard is in the employ of the participants, the power could shift sharply, except that each budding “literatus” (singular of literati) is so self-conscious, desperate, and emotionally and intellectually needy.
The most interesting change of momentum occurs when David Zinn’s apartment turns around to reveal its exact opposite – Leonard’s book and manuscript-filled, multi-level apartment, reeking with clutter. Ben Stanton’s lighting becomes dim, and John Gromada’s sound shifts amidst the dingy labyrinth. This second set serves Leonard for further opportunities to bed his seminar students, but it also metaphorically serves as a literary retreat for Martin and Leonard, as Martin strives to make something successful of his experience. However, with no intermission, and trillions of arcane propositions spit into the air, the fussy second set added to the sense of opaque oppressiveness. Moreover, Alan Rickman’s self-conscious strutting and seductive demeanor was less than riveting. Sam Gold has directed to minimize chemistry between characters, within a play that’s based on repressed and overt, mental and sexual energy. At the play’s curtain, I did not long for more. Rather, I took a breath.