In 2012, the late great Alan Rickman starred on Broadway in a play called Seminar, which was about a grand old writer who gave expensive workshops to up-and-coming writers. Here was my take on it. We miss you, Mr. Rickman, very much…..
We went to see Seminar at the Golden Theatre on Broadway today. It stars Alan Rickman as a cranky, past-his-prime literary writer who teaches exclusive ten-week writing seminars to any aspiring writers who can pay the $5000 to take it. His students are four young people — a pretentious ass with minor talent who has a famous uncle (played by Jerry O’Connell, late of Stand By Me, Sliders, and Crossing Jordan), a rich young woman who’s been working on the same short story for six years, a broke young man who has written a ton and shown it to no one, and a young Asian sexpot who thinks about sex pretty constantly…
Rickman’s character is magnificently snotty, but he also speaks the truth, even if that truth hurts (and it often does). It’s simply a brilliant performance from one of our finest actors, as his character is at once awful, tragic, hilarious, bitter, and miserable. O’Connell perfectly plays the pretentious ass (he opens the play by waxing rhapsodic about a writers retreat in the most ridiculous manner possible). The rest of the cast is equally excellent, particularly Hamish Linklater as Martin, who is just as pretentious (if not more so) than O’Connell’s character, whose pretentious he routinely decries.
What amazed me about this play was that it was the first piece of dramatic fiction I’ve ever seen that was a 100% accurate portrayal of writers. I’ve met and known all five of the writers in this play, seen all those behaviors, all those types. The writer who keeps revising the same story over and over rather than moving on, the writer who refuses to show his work, the writer who thinks he’s hotter shit than he actually is, the writer who only thinks in terms of getting ahead, and the writer whose career is on the downslide.
(A friend asked which of the five writers I was, and I pointed out that these were literary authors. I’m a genre author — different animal, same zoo.)
There wasn’t a single wrong note in this script, nothing that rang in any way wrong to me after two decades in publishing. Deftly written, very well paced, and with a lovely set design. The latter was especially spiffy — most of the play is in an upper-west-side luxury apartment that is tastefully hideous, and then the last scene is in Rickman’s character’s more dilapidated place with floor-to-ceiling books all over. But for the wide spaces dictated by being on a stage, they’re perfect old NYC apartments of two totally different types. (The film has several moments that place it firmly in New York, including a great conversation where the students force one character to telling them what her parents pay per month for the apartment that’s rent-controlled back to the stone age.)
Michael Glitz of Huffington Post wrote a scathing review of the play, in part due to several bits that he viewed as unrealistic and ridiculous — except everything he points out is quite typical and normal, whether it’s judging a work on the first few pages (standard practice for every professional editor in the world), or a writer spending five grand on a seminar that he then never submits anything to (not even close to the strangest thing I’ve seen in a writing workshop), or someone writing a novel in two weeks (I’ve done it, and so have many of my colleagues). Those are not the cheats that Glitz assumes them to be, but rather signs of verisimilitude. That he thinks this is lazy writing is just adorable…