No need to bring any books to this “Seminar,” Theresa Rebeck’s most recent Broadway play, now onstage at The Ahmanson Theatre.
Rebeck is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright who made a name for herself onstage and in TV, writing for David Milch in the heyday of “NYPD Blue,” and more recently having created the TV musical about making a Broadway musical, “Smash.” The gifted but legendarily difficult Milch has been cited as a possible inspiration for the lead character, as has the mythic Gordon Lish, a renowned editor (Raymond Carver among others), writing teacher and notorious womanizer.
Jeff Goldblum is the marquee name at the head of a polished ensemble cast in this fast, funny, piercing comedy; a wild ride through the tangle of literary aspirations and realities.
Goldblum is believable as Leonard, whose height is an asset as he towers, literally and figuratively, over his four students. An in-demand celebrity writing coach and former writer who’d been disgraced by a plagiarism scandal, he’s become an editor of unerring literary instincts with topnotch publishing connections.
Leonard is speedy and brutal in his assessments of his students’ writing, attacking not just their sentences but their egos, their fears, their sense of self.
The play is set in an Upper Westside New York apartment where Kate (Aya Cash) lives in rent-controlled splendor. She’s been working on a story for six years that Leonard smashes to bits after reading its first six words. Leonard predicts that Douglas (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) will go far in the soulless world of Hollywood, not meant as a compliment.
Izzy (Jennifer Ikeda) sells sex and sizzle in her writing, and engages in it too, with Leonard and with Martin (Greg Keller), perhaps the conscience of the play, who is afraid to share his work with Leonard, who will later assess it as the real deal.
It’s a satisfying romp that feels quite naturalistic, which of course it isn’t; who can spontaneously drop a line like the question Leonard asks his students to consider: “Am I trying to construct a living, breathing cosmos with language or am I just scratching on the wall of a cave?”
Performances of “Seminar” continue through Nov. 18 at The Ahmanson Theatre. Visit http://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/ or call (213) 972-4400.
Repping Santa Monica
Santa Monica Rep, the intrepid local theatre company, is beginning its third season. Following last season’s run of “Proof,” they produced a free monthly staged-reading series at Santa Monica Public Library; it concludes on Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. with a reading of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound.”
Their new stage production opens in a new location; the funny but morally challenging “How I Learned to Drive” by Paula Vogel. Winner of the 1998 Pulitzer, Vogel was awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature in 2004.
There’s a personal connection for director and Santa Monica Rep co-founder Jen Bloom, who worked as an assistant on the original N.Y. production.
“How I Learned To Drive” tells the story of a physically well-developed young girl and her much-older uncle, who teaches her how to drive. The child of a dysfunctional family, L’il Bit and Uncle Peck engage in a questionable relationship that’s hilarious and harrowing.
Previews begin with pay-what-you-can performances on Wednesday, Oct. 31 and Thursday, Nov. 1. Regular performances take place Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Dec. 1 at The Santa Monica Little Theatre, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 90025. Visit http://www.SantaMonicaRep.org.
Paying homage to Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick, the legendary filmmaker of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Lolita,” “A Clockwork Orange” and other cinematic touchstones, and a 13-time Academy Award-nominee, will be celebrated in a wide-ranging retrospective.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences co-present exhibitions, special events and film screenings, including a full chronological run of his movies.
At LACMA “Stanley Kubrick” lets us see Kubrick’s creative process through archival material, annotated scripts, photography, costumes, cameras and equipment, set models, original promotional materials, and props beginning Nov. 1 through June 2013.
On Saturday, Oct. 27 at 1 p.m., Elvis Mitchell welcomes Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s longtime executive producer, to talk about the legacy of Kubrick, discussing the multiple dimensions of Kubrick’s work and his influence on generations of artists and filmmakers. Harlan’s documentary, “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures,” will also be screened. It’s free in the Bing Theatre, but tickets are required. RSVP at http://www.lacma.org/event/legacy-stanley-kubrick.
At the academy, a special “Salute to Kubrick” hosted by Malcolm McDowell on Nov. 7 is sold out, but a satellite exhibition, “Stanley Kubrick: The Ultimate Trip” will be on view through March 3, 2013 in the academy’s Grand Lobby Gallery, Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekends noon to 6 p.m. at 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, Calif. http://www.oscars.org/events-exhibitions/events/2012/11/kubrick.html
Screenings of all of Kubrick’s films begin Nov. 9 at LACMA with his lesser known “Fear and Desire,” ending with the controversial “Eyes Wide Shut” on Dec. 15. More info: http://www.lacma.org/series/2012-kubrick-odyssey.
A local legend
And in another retrospective, the Santa Monica College Pete and Susan Barrett Art Gallery presents “Martha Alf: Retrospective of Paintings, Prints, Drawings & Photographs,” from Oct. 30 through Dec. 1. Opening reception is Sat., Oct. 27 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Alf, a Santa Monica resident and nationally-recognized artist, has been exhibited in galleries and museums across the U.S. for four decades. She may be best known for painting everyday items in a state of heightened reality. Against a flat background and lit dramatically from one side, these objects can appear as symbols of reverence.
I first encountered her work, a study of pears, at “Confronting Cancer Through Art,” at Glendale’s Brand Library in 1987, and the image has stayed with me ever since. In the context of healing through art, it took on a special mystical countenance.
The gallery is located in the SMC Performing Arts Center on Santa Monica Boulevard at 11th Street. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. For information call (310) 434-3434.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.