Saturday, February 8, 2014

Writers Get Schooled

Would-be writers have a lot to learn about the realities of writing and publishing and getting read, and a lot of those lessons are up for interpretation, as documented in the Round House Theatre's production of Theresa Rebeck's Seminar.

This is the kind of play that should either be right up my alley or too in-your-face close to home and off-putting. While I certainly could relate to the writing and editing and hoping to be published aspects of the story, I personally lack the ambition that put the would-be writers into the room with their well-paid but dismissive and abusive tutor. At my point in my career, I could relate best to the tutor (hopefully I'm not that dismissive and abusive!), whose promising writing career had been thwarted and redirected to editing and tutoring.

Anyway, it was relatively easy for me to create the distance I needed from my parallelling life and enjoy the language, the actors' interactions, the rhythms, and all that make productions worth producing. It's an adult comedy, hitting many of the same notes as RHT's This earlier this season.

What I was looking forward to most was seeing three of my favorite local actors playing together: The adorably goofy Tom Story (as Douglas), of course, plus Marty Lodge (Leonard), who first captured my attention in the old RHT's round space as the ghetto hotel manager in Problem Child, and the breathtakingly versatile Katie deBuys (Kate), whose previous Shakespearean work (Henry V at Folger and Measure for Measure at STC) I have noted as chameleon-like. It was great to see more of her in a contemporary role.

Marty Lodge and Katie deBuys. Photo by Danisha Crosby for Round House Theatre 

(L-R): Laura C. Harris, Tom Story, Katie deBuys, Alexander Strain. Round House Theatre via Facebook
A play about writing that doesn't show much of the writing under review--just the characters' reactions to the writing and to each other's reactions--is naturally going to be (as my companion noted, without irony) talky. In the care of such good actors, though, the talk has its own musicality. As the cynical, misogynistic tutor, Marty Lodge tears down the student work in monologues that are positively Homerian.

I've also seen Alexander Strain (Martin) and Laura C. Harris (Izzy) in other productions--Strain was RHT's Asher Lev, for instance, and one of the highlights of Glengarry Glen Ross, and Harris was a delightfully feisty Marian in RHT's Young Robin Hood--so it was nice to see them shine in this tight ensemble.

Speaking of careers evolving from writing to something less glamorous (but no less honorable), I see Lloyd Rose, a former drama critic for the Washington Post, served as dramaturg for this production. She's apparently been doing this sort of thing for a while. I still don't know what dramaturgs do, but I think, like editors, they make other writers' writing better. Well done.

Written by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Jerry Whiddon
Round House Theatre, Bethesda, MD ~ February 5 – March 2, 2014

Leonard: Marty Lodge
Kate: Katie deBuys
Martin: Alexander Strain
Douglas: Tom Story
Izzy: Laura C. Harris

scenic designer: James Kronzer 
costume designer: Ivania Stack
lighting designer: Daniel MacLean Wagner 
original score/arrangements/sound design: Eric Shimelonis

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