In 'Seminar,' looking (hilariously) for Mr. Write

In the cast of Philadelphia Theatre Company's production of Theresa Rebeck's "Seminar," at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, are (from left) Luigi Sottile, Teresa Avia Lim, Matt Harrington and Genevieve Perrier.
In the cast of Philadelphia Theatre Company's production of Theresa Rebeck's "Seminar," at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, are (from left) Luigi Sottile, Teresa Avia Lim, Matt Harrington and Genevieve Perrier.
Posted: March 22, 2013

THE CARDINAL rule of writing is, "Write what you know." And that's exactly what Theresa Rebeck did with "Seminar," her comedy being staged through April 14 by Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre.

"Seminar," which opened in late 2011 on Broadway with uber-movie villain Alan Rickman in the lead, revolves around writing tutorials presented to four aspiring writers by a haughty, acid-tongued novelist who is being paid handsomely by his tyros for the verbal abuse he gleefully distributes.

So, how does the play's author feel about writing - and those who engage in it?

"I actually find writing interesting and [sometimes] relaxing," she said, during a recent phone call. "I find it an exercise in curiosity.

"I'm well aware that people write with many different motives. The confusion of what writing is to our culture and why you would do it, and how money is involved in that, I live with that all the time, within myself and with other people."

Instead of conjuring a navel-gazing treatise on the art and craft of the wordsmith, Rebeck chose to play it for laughs. "I thought it would be funny to see someone titanic in his 50s just take a piss on a bunch of [youngsters], to just beat the crap out of a bunch of twentysomethings," she offered. "It turns out that is funny."

Although Rebeck, 55, admitted that she "took a lot of the information that I've gathered in my own career," she was quick to shoot down the suggestion that "Seminar" should be viewed through the prism of autobiography.

"It's not strictly autobiographical," she said. "I've done my share of teaching and I've done my share of having so-called gurus and titans of the art form beat the crap out of me. I've lived on both sides of the spectrum with that.

"Most people assume that I'm Kate - 'You're Kate, because she's the young feminist.' And I'm, 'Nooo, it doesn't work like that.' Sometimes I think there's more of me in Leonard than people are aware of."

If there is an aspect of writing that doesn't agree with Rebeck, who will conduct her own seminar after Sunday's matinee performance, it's what happens once a work is completed.

"My husband said to me one time that I am the opposite of Dorothy Parker - there's that famous quote [of hers]: 'I hate writing but I love having written,' " she said. "I'm the opposite: I love writing, but I hate having written.

"In my experience, the times when the real struggle begins is when you're done with your writing and you have to move into a place where what you're doing is [commercializing] the writing. For a fiction writer or playwright or screenwriter, when you're alone with the work, that's where you can do your best work. And once it moves into the system . . . everybody wants to get their fingerprints on it."

Rebeck - who has written several books as well as the screenplays for "Gossip" and "Harriet the Spy," and is currently working on the film adaptation of the series of Kay Scarpetta crime novels by Patricia Cornwell for Fox 2000 - knows whereof she speaks on this score. The creator and show-runner of "Smash," the NBC series about the creation of a Broadway musical, she left the program late last year because of what she found to be an overabundance of advice from people who don't know their overtures from their elbows.

"It was a peculiarly extreme and damaged situation," she admitted. "It was structured badly. There was a lot of interference from the powers that be. The politic way to put it was, there were too many cooks, although I don't know why I should be politic."


Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard streets, show times vary, $59, $52 and $46 (varies by performance), 215-985-0420, philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.

'Family' fun


 This season's run of touring Broadway musicals presented by the Kimmel Center has hit its zenith with "The Addams Family," which runs through Sunday at the Academy of Music.

Based, of course, on the macabre and madcap cartoon brood created in the 1930s by Penn student Charles Addams, the show has plenty going for it, starting with a regularly hilarious script by "Jersey Boys" authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice that stays true to the irreverent, offbeat tone of the original source material, but which is nicely contemporary. Throw in a rousing, clever score (by Andrew Lippa), a facile and sure-handed (and -throated) cast, sharp staging and breezy direction by Broadway titan Jerry Zaks, and you have an overabundance of tuneful fun that, despite a few sexual double entendres, is pretty much suitable for everyone's family.

To be sure, there's not much plot here - the main story involves daughter Wednesday's desire to elope with a young man from a "normal" family - but there is so much toe-tapping silliness from overture to finale that its feather-light plot is irrelevant.


Academy of Music, Broad and Locust streets, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, $20-$100, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.

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