URI Theatre began its 2014-15 season last week with the first of two production runs of the Broadway play “Seminar.”
The play takes place in Manhattan, where a quartet of younger writers have pooled together money for private seminar with Leonard (Christopher Morris), a well regarded figure in the literary world.
The characters are led to believe that Leonard will offer valuable feedback on their work, which would allow them to improve their stories. Instead, Leonard critiques their work harshly, often delving into tangents and frequently demoralizing them. At least one of the meetings end because after he has stomped the life out of one, the other three are hesitant to show him their work.
For instance, Kate (Christine O’Connell) is shredded for rewriting the same “Pride and Prejudice” rehash for six years only because some of her teachers have damned it with faint praise. Douglas (Belamy Brophy-Baermann), the only one of the four who has actually been published, is called out for his adequate skills and pretentious persona. Leonard encourages him to capitalize on his famous last name in Hollywood. He does not mean this as a compliment.
It’s unsurprising that Martin (Stephen Peterson) is reluctant to show his work to the group, and especially to Leonard. The last of the writers, Izzy (Laine Wagner), is the center of much of the play’s sexual tension and isn’t above unethical means of getting ahead in the literary world.
In a play full of terrific performances by a wonderful ensemble, Christopher Morris is especially terrific as Leonard. He easily captures the character’s multiple layers, both as a man with an often repugnant personality who is quick to demoralize but also as one who knows great work when he sees it.
Morris’ delivery of Leonard’s monologue near the end of the play, before a setting change, is exquisite. It is a major character moment, revealing much of the character’s motivations, and Morris’ masterly delivery is easily the production’s highlight.
Christine O’Connell also puts in an exemplary performance as Kate. Much of what makes her performance great is in her facial expressions when met with shock, surprise or concern.
Likewise, Belamy Brophy-Baermann nails his character’s eager but often pompous personality. There is much to be said about an actor who can achieve the silently shattered emotions of Douglas when his writing, name and persona are torched by Leonard.
Also of note is the set design. The cutaway of Kate’s apartment, where most of the play takes place, accurately suggests the cavernous appearance described within the dialogue. Often, characters disappear into other rooms or hallways off stage, and it’s believable that there’s far more beyond the three walls.
The production’s cast are impeccable in their roles, especially in their delivery of Theresa Rebeck’s wordy, monologue-heavy script. They act as if they have been performing this material in front of an audience for months, and it’s a fantastic showcase for the department’s acting talent.
“Seminar”’s second production run will begin tonight at 7:30 p.m., with performances also scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday. The show will complete its run on with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $12 for students, $15 for seniors and URI faculty and $20 for the general public.
URI Theatre’s next production, “Avenue Q,” is scheduled to begin on Nov. 13.