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City Theatre's Seminar

It's a fine play, sleek and funny, hitting exactly the right notes ... and it's utterly hollow.

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There's a rather interesting scene occurring halfway through Seminar, a play by Theresa Rebeck making its Pittsburgh premiere at City Theatre. The set-up is a private writing class with four students taught (and mercilessly abused) by a once-well-regarded writer, Leonard.

After having chewed up one of the attendees, Leonard turns his sights on Douglas, who, up to this point, has been an insufferable, narcissistic prig. Leonard tells Douglas that though he does possess a certain level of talent, his work is utterly hollow. His proficiency is too, well, proficient, and the glittery gloss of his writing can't obscure its want of depth. Leonard then calls him a whore and tells him to move to Hollywood.

What I find most interesting is that that was pretty much the review I was writing in my head about Seminar. It's a fine play, sleek and funny, hitting exactly the right notes. It goes exactly where you think it's headed and arrives with dispatch and plenty of humor. And it's utterly hollow.

Even more interesting is that Rebeck once took Leonard's advice. Back in the '90s, she famously wrote a scathing essay about the state of American theater and vowed to work only in film and television from then on. Which she did: Rebeck was the creator and producer of NBC's Smash (although — how does one put this politely? — she is no longer with the show).

Once again, Tony Ferrieri has designed a gorgeous set I want to live in: an old-money Manhattan apartment. And once again, director Tracy Brigden demonstrates her flair for comedy with this tightly drawn and perfectly paced production. Daniel Gerroll, playing Leonard, moves effortlessly from sociopath to wounded saint, and nobody has ever made priggish narcissism more entertaining than Andy Bean as Douglas. Charles Socarides, playing the show's nominal hero, Martin, has to navigate a number of unsupported character reversals, but does so with considerable skill.

Rebeck is well known for her refreshingly feminist view of the theater industry ... so it's somewhat surprising that her two female characters are the least interesting of the five. But Rebecca Harris and Nadia Gan certainly make use of all Rebeck has given them.

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