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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Theatre review: Seminar is honest, poignant and riveting

Debut production from Alex&Main is an auspicious start

A dozen people comprise the brand new theatre production company of Alex&Main. One of them is Shane Leydon. He directed the company’s inaugural production, Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar, that opened at The Nest on November 20. The play premiered on Broadway the same day back in 2011.

If Laydon’s impeccable direction of the acting is anything to go by, the correlation between the two dates is no mere coincidence. His attention to character detail, right down to the soul-searching program notes about himself and his actors, is thrilling. The cast’s intimate, revealing bios reflect the personalities, bared naked (in more ways than one in several instances), of the five characters portrayed on stage.

From the outset, creative-writing student, Douglas, engages the audience and foxy fellow-student, Izzy, with a tsunami of trite superlatives in an attempt to seduce her. Izzy, played with perfection by Leah Jacksties, responds positively to his advances, as she does with the other males in turn later.

Douglas’s diatribe is so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up, but it doesn’t matter until he stumbles with the pronunciation of Inigo Jones. His malapropism, Indigo Jones, is pointed out by Martin, his rival for Izzy’s favours, to cut the pedantic Douglas down to size. Both characters are played with engaging authenticity and depth by David Lennon and Mark Reinhardt, respectively.

Waves of words crash and thunder onward, along with the lives of the four young students who are taking a costly creative writing course. It’s held in the lavish apartment (which could have looked a tad more lavish) belonging to Kate, the fourth student in the troupe. Devon Copico, who plays Kate with warmth and vitality, belies her program note that she is a relative newcomer to the stage.

Tim Coderre, as the jaded course instructor, Leonard, gives an outstanding performance in this equally outstanding production. Leonard’s dejection because of his perceived failure as an author renders him cruel, sexually-exploiting and seemingly ignorant of the writing talent of the young hopefuls before him.

However, in the end, Leonard is redeemed by Martin’s discovery of a terrific script in Leonard’s apartment when Martin turns up to demand his money back so he can find somewhere to live, having used his savings to pay for the writing course.  Both instructor and student help each other to carry on and leave the audience with hope for their future.

Anyone who has attempted to write is bound to recognize the struggles, failures, self-doubt, and occasional triumphs of all five characters. They are inherent in any authorship and are highlighted poignantly in Rebeck’s well-crafted script. Small wonder that this accomplished group of actors and their director tackle her work with such loyalty.

Although terrific jazz accompanies the fade-outs to indicate the passage of time, along with minimal scene and witty costume changes (particularly with reference Douglas’s differently coloured socks), those fade-outs and changes could be tightened.

And, although it’s an ingenious idea to blend two different apartments in the cramped stage space available, it doesn’t quite come off as intended with both apartments equally lit for the duration.

The audience shouldn’t be distracted from the action by technical issues, no matter how trivial. For example, when Leonard walks offstage to collect a bottle of whisky when there’s a trolley of drinks in full view in what was Kate’s apartment moments before, there is an unnecessary hiccup. It at least distracted this reviewer’s rapt attention to the dialogue. Lighting might solve such instances, perhaps with something as simple as different coloured gels.

These relatively minor problems are worth addressing because Alex & Main’s production of Seminar is otherwise faultless, seamless, superb. Its exploration of the agonies involved in writing anything, or of creativity in all its various forms, should be witnessed, if not experienced by every well-heeled entrepreneur, politician and business-person who thinks that the arts are for ‘pansies and whiners.’

Seminar by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Shane Leydon. An Alex&Main Productions presentation. On stage at The Nest (1398 Cartwright St., Granville Island, Vancouver) until November 30. Visit for tickets and information.

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