Fear and loathing in the writers’ room

From left: Hamish Linklater, Alan Rickman, Lily Rabe (standing), Hettienne 
Park (seated) and Jerry O’Connell (foreground) star in “Seminar,” now on Broadway.

There’s more than a hint of Severus Snape in Leonard, the author played by Alan Rickman in Theresa Rebeck’s “Seminar” at the Golden Theatre. Like the Hogwarts professor Rickman embodied in the “Harry Potter” film franchise, Leonard instills fear and some loathing in the four would-be writers for whom he is conducting a private, pricey seminar. It’s no surprise that Rickman shines, nailing every putdown with hauteur and precision. Nor is it surprising when we learn there’s more to Leonard than nonchalant derision. 

Surprises, it seems, are not in the syllabus for Rebeck’s slender comedy — which does not prevent it from being enjoyable, thanks to its literate, witty dialogue, delivered by a top-notch cast. Leonard’s students include Kate (Lily Rabe), a moderate feminist who’s been working on the same story for six years, Izzy (Hettienne Park) a sexpot pragmatist who’ll do whatever — and whomever — it takes to make it and Douglas (Jerry O’Connell), well-connected and facile, talented but hollow. And then there’s Martin (Hamish Linklater), a brooding artist type who refuses to share his work with the class. 

Feelings flounder, tempers flare, alliances realign.  I won’t spoil the ending; you’ll probably see it coming anyway. Despite its clever touches, “Seminar” is formulaic.  It’s a delight to see Rickman hold court, especially with such a crisply written script and able courtiers. But his talents would be better served with more of a departure from Snape and a more substantial vehicle.


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