Seminar: Let’s Be Brutally Honest

By Adam Versényi

Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar, with its conversation surrounding mentorship and education is, in many ways, the perfect play for production by a theatre company like PlayMakers located on a university campus. That conversation is even more relevant when it quickly becomes clear that the seminar in question is concerned with creative writing, a discipline with a long strong history on the UNC campus. The South is a region known for the strength of its fiction writers, many nurtured by programs like ours here in Chapel Hill.

Rebeck’s biting comedy is set in a New York City Upper West Side apartment where four young writers gather for a master class taught by Leonard, once a young fiction phenom himself, who is now a highly sought after editor and a journalist covering war-torn, strife-ridden areas of the globe in the style of Christopher Hedges or C.J. Shivers. The old lion Leonard circles and snipes, pokes and prods, insults and incites the young feral cats that are his charges. In the process, Rebeck explores these writers and all of our life-long cycle of self-identification. The question at the root of this seminar is not so much what it takes to be an artist, but more provocatively, what it takes to be a human being. Rebeck’s characters expose themselves to one another and to us, moving in and out of states of vulnerability and rawness, struggling with how the nature of authenticity contrasts with the perception of authenticity.

Perhaps the central vehicle Rebeck uses to explore these questions is the various shades of honesty we encounter in the play. Like us all, her characters are honest with one another in different degrees, at different times. Leonard’s teaching technique of brutal honesty with his students motivates a great deal of the play’s dramatic action, but also raises questions. Is he being truly honest, both with them and with himself? And is brutal honesty, the tearing down of a student in order to build her or him up again, an effective teaching technique, or simply an exercise of power, an unadulterated ego-trip? Through her characters Rebeck allows us to come to different conclusions in answer to these questions as Leonard and the young writers explore nature vs. nurture, the quality of experience vs. innate identity, as they work to become the type of artist they want to be. The feral cats act on instinct while the old lion offers sage advice gained on the killing fields of the savannah. Rebeck’s play is certainly full of witty dialogue, but it is much more than people sitting around pontificating. This is a muscular, active experience for the audience member. Pull up your chair for this Seminar; join the debate.

Seminar is onstage beginning October 14th.

Click here or call our Box Office at 919-962-7529 for tickets.