Alan Rickman warned me about this: In his new play at the Golden Theater on Broadway, Seminar by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Sam Gold, Rickman plays a well-established teacher of a private writers' workshop. He cajoles and humiliates his students, sleeps with them, getting his point across.
But wait. This highly unorthodox manner may have been modeled on famed writing impresario Gordon Lish, a book editor who staged marathon six hour classes in students' apartments; they would not so much as cough or go to the john, and he would lecture them, whole roomfuls of young writers paying a hefty sum, with the lure that some might be offered a publishing contract. Rickman's character Leonard has a similarly odd pedagogical method, and his young writers, especially Lily Rabe's Kate hopes her intellectuality is on a higher level than Kerouac's, dismissing him as "a misogynist hack."
That On the Road, says a classmate dripping with irony, that book didn't work out so well! Of course the joke within the joke is that of course Kerouac remains one of the most popular writers of fiction now 42 years after his death. While maintaining an artist's life, he had no teacherly or lofty pretentions, only the obsession to write his "true-life" novels in an authentic voice. Kerouac died without knowing that the world would catch up to his view of himself, a real writer, in the literary tradition of Whitman, Melville, and Jack London.
Which is innocent of the wiles of this group who speak with intensity about the convergence of "interiority" and "exteriority." In the writing seminar, this class has its eyes on different, eh, balls. Izzy (Hettienne Park), Douglas (Jerry O'Connell), Martin (Hamish Linklater), all have a contemporary lust for real estate, especially Kate's Upper West Side apartment: Nine rooms, but only two have views to the river, she defends herself.
Moving at a quick hour and a half, with no intermission, Seminar is one of the funniest shows on Broadway and Alan Rickman, his jeans bulging at the crotch, is delightfully your worst nightmare as a teacher, and also the most realistic as he instructs the class: "Writers in their natural state are as civilized as feral cats." And, even in the literary arts: "Fraud is way of life in a capitalist culture." But hey, he's willing to do a line edit for a writer who shows promise. He's not all bad.
Last month at a post-screening lunch at "21" for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 -- he is Severus Snape in the popular franchise -- Alan Rickman cautioned me that Jack Kerouac was disparaged in the play. He could not ascertain that his "Leonard" was actually based on the legendary Lish, but he did not deny it either. And when I asked whether or not he enjoyed playing villains -- I was thinking of Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd -- he denied that he plays them, "well, hardly ever."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.