Saturday, February 24, 2018

Review: 'Seminar' fine play with outstanding cast at Chester Theatre Group

                                      (from L to R: John A.C. Kennedy, Jessica Phelan, Nick Wolf, Anthony Bentrovato, and Meg Foley)

The Chester Theatre Group is presenting Theresa Rebeck‘s thinking man’s comedy Seminar. The play is a fast paced (90 minutes with no intermission)  directed by the multi-talented Lauri MacMillan. This is not a fluffy sex comedy, well… sex does play a big part in the story. It concerns four young would-be novelists; Kate, Martin, Douglas, and Izzy and their tutor, Leonard, an elitist ex-novelist with international literary fame. Leonard has not written for some time, finding himself resorting to private tutorials for survival. In this case, each of the four students paid Leonard $5,000 for a ten-week writing seminar to be held in Kate's rent controlled Upper West Side New York apartment. Each sees this class as the pathway to writing the next great American novel, and the fame and fortune that would follow.

Leonard (John A. C. Kennedy) may be a fine novelist, but his method of teaching in this seminar format is not only unorthodox it borders on sadistic. His approach is to provide the minimum of encouragement via almost constant sarcastic and cynical comments about their writing ability (or lack of). He dismisses, for example, Kate’s six-year writing effort inspired by Jane Austen after reading only the first five words of her story. The result is that the sessions turn vicious with sex used as a weapon.
Front: Jessica Phelan, Seated Nick Wolf, John AC Kennedy Standing: Meg Foley. Anthony Bentrovato
The four students are nicely cast: Jessica Phelan (CTG regulars will remember her in CTG’s Show for Days) is beautifully cast as Kate, a liberal feminist leading a privileged life. She has the more challenging role of the two women; Meg Foley  is Izzy a sexually free young woman who’s only interested is writing for the money. She seduces all three men, or is it the other way around? This the smallest part, but the weapon of sex is important to the plot and she excels at keeping all three men interested. Her  ”time” with Douglas and Leonard is purely due to their literary contacts; Nick Wolf nicely portrays the rather bland Douglas who Leonard describes as "a literary whore" getting by on his name and connections. His uncle is a well-known writer, Douglas’s number one goal is to bed Izzy (his real life wife!).

The last of the four is a CTG newcomer Anthony Bentrovato. He is spot-on in the key role of the broke and homeless Martin who is shy about anyone reading his writings whom Leonard cruelly calls ‘a p***y.’ He strays with Izzy but his heart belongs to Kate. In turn, Kate strays with…oops.. see the play for the answer.

Last in this cast list is John A.C. Kennedy…he is beyond  marvelous in this star-turn. He perfectly presents the brilliant but cynical Leonard. To see his performance is worth the price of admission (ok, old theater cliché…but absolutely true.) This man is an outstanding actor (and a real life writer!).

The director of this brutal (verbally) confrontation of aspiring writers is Lauri MacMillan. She is a superior ringmaster leading a fine cast of community talent to a  professional  level..  John A.C. Kennedy, in particular, would be outstanding in this part on any side of the Hudson.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  February 23, 2018

February 24, March 2, 3 at 8:00 PM
February 25, March 4 at 2:00 PM

Mature Content and Language. May not be suitable for children under 16.
Production Credits: 
Producer Roxanna Wagner
Stage Manager George Seylaz
Props Cathy Braithwaite
Set Design Stephen Catron
Lighting Design Ellen Fraker-Glasscock
Sound Design 
Robert Jakuc

Tickets: $20 adults, $18 (Buy on-line

Black River Playhouse  54 Grove Street (at the corner of Maple Avenue), Chester, NJ    07930 • 908-879-7304 •

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