We went to New York last month specifically to see Alan Rickman’s performance in the Broadway Play Seminar. Rickman’s stint playing a has-been writer reduced to tutoring young would-be authors was about to expire.(He has been replaced in the play by Jeff Goldblum.) The sarcastic disdain with which he treats the acolytes’ writing samples is the entire theme of the play. He describes one offering as a ‘soul-sucking waste of words.’. I don’t consider myself qualified to write theater criticism but I do enjoy watching a great stage actor at work. Rickman says he doesn’t deliberately seek out villainous roles, but with his hawk-like nose and lips that seem to be in a perpetual sneer, it is easy to see why he is so believable as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies, or the Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood-Prince of Thieves or the mad Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard movie. Then of course there is the voice—described by one New York Times reviewer as “ (a) voice that evokes a slow pour of black molasses.” Or as critic Ben Brantley put it regarding Rickman’s performance in Seminar, “It is … a pleasure to hear Mr. Rickman pronounce “semicolon” with a pinching nasality that turns a punctuation mark into a symptom of terminal constipation.” The same tonal qualities apply when Rickman uses the “f…” word which is frequent in this play. At the end of the performance the audience got up and cheered. So much for hard-to-please New York audiences. The last time I saw an audience in New York cheer was when Christopher Plummer brought his one man show Barrymore to Broadway. One regret about Seminar— the play is staged at the bum-numbing Golden Theatre that seats 800 squished into the narrowest seats on Broadway.
We should have left well enough alone after the Seminar matinee, but with time to kill before dinner decided to catch a film. We chose “the Deep Blue Sea” a revival of a 1950’s Terrence Rattigan play of the same name, in a SOHO art house. The director, Terrence Davies “is (according to a biographer) noted for his recurring themes of emotional (and sometimes physical) endurance” and he gave good evidence of that with a movie that sorely tested our endurance and begged to be walked out on several times. How can a juicy story about a rich women, the wife of a judge, who runs away with an impecunious former RAF flyboy be so uninvolving? Watching this movie one has to remember that it was Rattigan who gave us the marvelous, Winslow Boy, Browning Version and Separate Tables. But we all make clunkers once in a while and I acknowledge that Rattigan knew a hell of a lot more about drama than most of us ever will. Still this was a dreary production and at the end when the adulterous wife played by Rachael Weisz, contemplates suicide you want nothing more than to assist her.