In ALT's 'Seminar,' 'it's funny to watch them squirm'
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Don Washburn usually finds a way to sympathize with the characters he plays, but his latest role for Amarillo Little Theatre is a bit of a challenge.
"He's just a horrible person," Washburn laughed.
The actor stars in Seminar as Leonard, an accomplished writer and editor who offers his advice to young writers in the titular sessions. In the pitch-black comedy by Theresa Rebeck (Smash), he meets with four such hopefuls and proceeds to rip them — and their work — to shreds.
"He zeroes in on everyone's weakness — exploits it, makes them face it," Washburn said. "It's just a thing of beauty to watch."
The comedy opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the ALT Adventure Space, 2751 Civic Circle. It'll continue at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and April 14 and 15, 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. April 13. Tickets are $19 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, and $13 for children Thursdays and Sundays, and $21 for adults, $19 for students and seniors, and $15 for children Fridays and Saturdays. Call 806-355-9991.
Director Stephen Crandall says it doesn't take long for Leonard to size up his students and their abilities.
"He has learned how to see through all of the BS in their writing and get to the truth of it, to see if they're actually saying something or if it's all just BS," Crandall said. "They paid for that, but they don't want that. ... They're not ready for the criticism."
That includes Martin, a talented, serious writer played by Ryan T. Land in his ALT debut. The writer doesn't particularly want Leonard's help at all, in fact.
"He has a pretty strict code about how he thinks art should be made and how success should be attained," Land said. "The most talented should be successful, not the ones who play games."
His fellow students don't quite agree.
Kate (Annemarie Rossatto), in whose Upper West Side apartment the seminar is held, wants to prove herself capable of surviving by her skills, not just her money. Douglas (Jason Kopp) has family connections and can't stop dropping names. Izzy (Karen Colin) is willing to use her body, not just her mind, to get ahead.
Leonard sees right through them, though.
"He'll read a page, hold it out and drop it like a piece of trash until he finds something worth criticizing or praising," Washburn said. "It's militaristic — tearing them down to build them back up again."
"It's funny to watch them squirm," Crandall said.
The process opens up some raw wounds that aren't exactly healed.
"It's really personal to all of them," Crandall said. "Leonard is unique — very unorthodox, wise. He's not going to sugarcoat anything, and that really creates some very tense moments."
As a teacher himself, Crandall can empathize with Leonard's methods.
"The longer you teach, the more I find myself wanting to do that," Crandall said, laughing. "I do think you start to think there's too much time wasted placating students and that you get to the better results faster if you're just completely honest.
"That's the hard part about teaching. You need constructive ways to get to them, but there are certainly moments where brutal honesty may be the most motivating factor."