Vicious parlor gatherings appear to be in vogue.
Spring brought Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” with its uncorked hostilities between two sets of parents, to the Curious Theatre Company. Tracy Lett’s “August: Osage County” will soon occupy the big screen.
Currently the engaging Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company is plunging headlong into the regional premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s “Seminar” for its season opener.
Helmed by producing director Stephen Weitz, this nasty, expertly realized bit of business finds a quartet of young fiction writers paying $5,000 each for a 10-week flagellation by a legendary novelist and writing professor turned editor.
John Ashton is quite convincing as Leonard. The former writing professor likes to extol the virtues of venturing out into the world to connect to other people’s suffering (or sadism) be it in Dubai, Somalia or Rwanda.
Aptly clad in dark slacks and a blazer by costume designer Kevin Brainerd, Leonard prowls the living room in the feral spirit he encourages in his students, who aren’t quite up to slashing their fellow writers with sharpened claws.
Kate (Devon James) reveres Jane Austen and loathes Jack Kerouac. Douglas (Matthew Blood-Smyth) has an agent, an in with the New Yorker and a habit of rattling on about “exteriority and interiority.” Izzy (Mary Kay Riley) wears high-heeled ankle boots and short ensembles that show off her coltish gams. You imagine a near future in which she pens a “Fifty Shades of Grey”-style best seller.
Leonard tags the highly earnest Martin (Sean Scrutchins) with a derogatory name associated with anything but feral cats.
Leonard sniffs out their insecurities and then reads their tentatively offered manuscripts through the lens of that opinion.
They’re hypocrites, he says. So is he, one suspects. Or is he?
Sharp turns make this swift one-act a provocative, if not entirely illuminating, pleasure. Rebeck’s play isn’t short on one-liners, pointed observations, a hilarious twist. But it appears disinterested in the deeper truths of language or even writers.
“Writers aren’t people,” says Kate at one point. For far too long, “Seminar” seems to agree.
Lisa Kennedy: 303-954-1567, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/bylisakennedy