WNBA-NYC Writers on the Town: Our Day at a Matinee

Linda Epstein, Alan Rickman & Rhona Whitty

We sat in the first row, so close to the front that the usher asked one of us (her) to take her program off the edge of the stage as we were sitting down. It was our date with Alan. Alan Rickman, of course, star of the Broadway show Seminar (*cue Snape, Snape, Severus Snape* tune from Youtube’s Potter Puppets*). We met through the WNBA-NYC two and a half years ago now. No, not Alan Rickman, silly. Rhona and I! We became fast friends and started editing The New York Bookwoman together. That’s the WNBA-NYC newsletter, for all you slugs who aren’t members yet. In that time,  we’ve also gone to see The Rockbottom Remainders, the National Book Award nominee readings, and to many WNBA-NYC events. We’ve gone through the WNBA archival material up at Columbia University. We’ve (wo)manned the WNBA booth at The Brooklyn Book Festival and we’ve attended BEA together. And of course we’ve downed our fair share of cocktails. We are both writers, you know. Rhona’s edited my work. I’ve edited hers. Seminar was ok (Alan was wonderful), but hanging with my writer friend was really what made my day. So here’s the review (hers!):

Five Actors in Search of a Plot…and Characters!

With a plot you could use to strain spaghetti, it would be an insult to your intelligence to issue a spoiler alert for Seminar. Just as it would be an insult to Central Casting circa 1935 to say they want their cliched characters back.

Alan Rickman plays the world-weary failed writer reduced to teaching over-privileged kids about writing. He disappears for two weeks at a time to make dangerous and worthy trips to places like Somalia. (Who visits Somalia for two weeks?) His four students consist of Girl No. 1: Rich, white, blond, in a Central Park-sized rent-controlled apartment, she’s a feminist, and apparently sexually repressed on account of that. Hair pulled back and wearing glasses, she consoles herself by gorging on ice cream and cookie dough. Girl No. 2, is Chinese-American, and to my mind the most risibly cliched of all: she conducts one conversation seated on a sofa with her breasts exposed to the audience. She’s uninhibited to the point of nymphomania, and she writes about sex, winning her the lecherous approbation of the teacher. Boy No. I is Tony Randall who apparently wandered off the set of a Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedy, and into this piece. Preppy (button-down check shirt and sockless,) well-connected, with an over-blown vocabulary and a penchant for shouting his lines, he does his best to provide the comic relief. Then there’s Boy No. 2: As socially obscure as the high-school teacher who recommended him for the course, he’s broke, bespeckled, defensive, and utterly lacking in confidence. And he just happens to be the golden nugget in a pile of dross. Never would have guessed it, would you?

Between the obligatory self-righteous digs at The New Yorker, second-rate writers whoring themselves in Hollywood, the misogynism of Jack Kerouac, and the students wandering around drinking beer straight from the bottle – to prove they’re really students, I presume – the rest of the play was made up of profound observations like: “Writers aren’t people.”  And, “I’m a woman, how can I man-up?” From a purely technical point of view, it was odd that for a play about writing, only a couple of lines were actually read from the pieces submitted by the four hopeful students.

I – who like everyone else on the planet would pay good money to watch Alan Rickman read the phone book – was torn between marveling at what he could do with the slightest twitch of an eyebrow, and wondering what the hell drew him to the part to begin with. Did they promise him 90% of the box office? Will he get to play Dumbledore in Harry Potter the Musical? I’m sure he is the only reason this play is on Broadway. And then I read that the equally talented and vastly-underrated Jeff Goldblum is taking over his part, on April 1, no less! Whatever about the thinly-veiled snark that Rickman used to breathe life into the role, I can’t imagine what Goldblum is going to do with it. And why on earth would he want to play it in the first place?

If despite everything I’ve said you still insist on seeing this play, then go with my friend Linda, who delivered the best line just as the curtain was falling: “Clearly, to be a writer you have to drink scotch.” Or better yet, skip the play altogether, and spend the two hours yapping with her over lunch – I promise you, it’s far more entertaining! If Linda isn’t available, and you have to get your Rickman fix, watch him in ‘Bottle Shock,‘ or in ‘Blow Dry‘ where he does battle with fellow hairdresser Bill Nighy for the coveted Golden Scissors award.


  1. Great review. I’m glad Alan Rickman took the part so that we had the pleasure of reading this very witty account. Think I’ll pass up on the play though.

  2. Yes, I agree. A fun review! Thanks for taking the time. Can you do more?!

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