Reviewer Beki Pineda is a 30-year veteran of the Denver theater scene as a former teacher and director. She has owned and operated All Propped Out, a theatrical prop rental house, and for 14 years reviewed theater for the former publication Time Out for Entertainment. She is a both professional theatergoer with a true love for the art and an unabashed theater groupie.
The WOW Factor for each production measures its worth against a perfect score of 10. Shows rated 7 and above are the ones Beki recommends.
Click here for reviews of past shows.
SEMINAR — Written by Theresa Rebeck; directed by Stephen Weitz. Produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company at the Dairy Center for the Arts (2590 Walnut St.); playing through Oct. 20. Tickets available at 303-351-BETC or www.BETC.org <http://www.betc.org/> .
There is a simple elegance about BETC productions that illustrates a caring concern for each detail. No showy overdone staging – no elaborate extravaganza. Most sets are cut to the bone, using only those elements needed to tell the story. As is the case in their current production of SEMINAR . . . . until the last 15 minutes of the show. Then they pull a hat trick out of thin air and knock your socks off with an elaborate staging surprise. Good for you, BETC, for catching us all off guard, and kudos to prop master Amy Helen Cole and set designer Ron Mueller.
Even the changes between the short scenes are done with an unhurried grace that allows the audience to take in what just happened and to get ready for what’s coming up. A group of four young, struggling writers have hired a very expensive older published author/teacher/editor to review their work and critique it over the course of 10 weekly sessions (though they don’t make it to 10). Each session is a new scene. The actors seemingly make their unhurried offstage costume changes, casually pick up the props from the last scene, and move into place for the new scene in character so that when the lights come up again, we are in the middle of a new conversation a week later.
There is also significance in the fact that the name BETC includes the word “Ensemble.” They choose plays that depend on strong ensemble work, in which cast members strongly support one another in telling the story, and all are equally important no matter the number of lines they speak. Such is this cast. The nominal lead would be Leonard, the teacher, who is given a truthful, hurtfully honest portrayal by John Ashton. John’s Leonard wears the weight of an unfulfilled career on his shoulders; his bluntness is born of a disdain for pretense and social niceties and an awareness of the time he has left to make an impact. The subtle manner in which he steers his “students” into more suitable career paths is lost on all but one of the seminar participants. The audience could easily hate Leonard for his unforgiving eye for the truth and his bluntness in telling it, but we don’t. We grow to admire him for it.
Each of the four seminar participants brings a separate literary type to life. There is Kate (Devon James), the self-described “rich white girl” who lives in a family-owned rent-controlled nine-room apartment on the Upper West Side and has been rewriting the same story for six years. There is Izzy (Mary Kay Riley), the sexually promiscuous, politically aware climber who is willing to do whatever it takes to parlay her minor talent in writing and her major talent in bed into a career. Then we have Douglas (Matthew Blood-Smyth), whose famous-writer uncle with the same last name (never revealed) has moved him to the head of the class by providing entry into literary inner circles and whose high-minded concepts about the art (as opposed to the craft) of writing have nearly frozen him in place. The final seminar participant is Martin (Sean Scrutchins), whose timidity and insecurity about his skill almost blind him to its worth. His fearful approach to criticism reveals his inner fragility. In light of Leonard’s treatment of the other writers, it is a real act of courage for him to hand over his manuscript for analysis.
All four of these players create full-blown characters complete with unspoken but apparent back stories. Their love of language and ability at storytelling unite them, while their individual egos and agendas separate them. The skill with which Sean, Mary Kay, Devon and Matthew become Martin, Izzy, Kate and Douglas is lovely to behold. The nuances created in body language during silent times—the toss of hair, the grimace of pain, the unspoken look of adoration, the no-nonsense fetching of cookie dough when it is needed—elevate the performances and create the living body of the ensemble.
This is another BETC production not to miss. Boulder is so lucky to have this gem at your doorstep; each performance SHOULD be sold out. Run, don’t walk!
WOW factor: 9.5