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 What does it take to be a good writer? Is it harrowing experiences or is it a unique perspective or way of life? Is it something that can be taught or can good writing only come from natural talent? These questions and more are discussed in the Phoenix’ current production: Seminar.

The play premiered on Broadway in November 2011 with a stellar cast. Less than a year later the Phoenix was able to snag it as part of its 30th season. It’s currently onstage in the intimate Frank and Katrina Basile Theatre.

Four aspiring fiction writers scrape together $5,000 each to hire an accomplished author to teach a 12-week writing seminar. Their teacher, Leonard, is a misogynistic jerk with a palpable self-loathing and a particular talent for crushing dreams. Played with relish by Bill Simmons, Leonard embodies a failed artist, lashing out at others who are just beginning their careers. He stumbles around as if drunk or high while spouting self-absorbed nonsense after merely glancing at his students’ work.

The classes are incredibly tense, as the five writers sit in a room and push each other’s buttons. The four students include: Martin (Sam Fain), who is a bit rough around the edges, but self-righteous about his work and Izzy (Lisa Ermel) who delights in using her sexuality to get a rise out of the people around her.

Then there’s Douglas (Neal Eggeson), an insufferable name-dropper whose self-entitlement is only matched by his mediocrity. Finally there’s Kate, played by Lauren Briggeman. She’s a middle-class, white female, so basically everything that Leonard despises in a writer. Her uptight, defensive nature and choices throughout the play make her a fascinating character, but I was frustrated by way the direction in which the story takes her. I felt like it was the easy way out and that her plot could have been so much more if it was handled differently.

Each of the characters is very well acted, but ultimately unlikeable. They are so wrapped up in their own neurosis that they are oblivious to each other’s pain. Everything they hang their hopes on is dashed on the rocks by the cruel and thoughtless words of their professor and they don’t know how to cope. If you ever needed a deterrent from becoming a writer – this is it!
Don't Miss the Show 

For more information about the Phoenix Theatre, visit The theater is located at 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis, just off Massachusetts Ave. 

Performances: The show runs until Nov. 25 and offers four performances a week. Thursdays begin at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturdays begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. 

Tickets: To purchase tickets, call (317) 635-PLAY (7529). Prices range from $18 to $28. The play has no intermission and includes adult language and mild nudity.

Photos Courtesy of the Phoenix Theatre