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Presentation of ‘Seminar’ pleasing to eye, intellect

A beautiful symmetry occurs on stage during Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s impressive presentation of Theresa Rebeck’s comedy “Seminar.” Live theater is the ultimate collaboration, and here we see all its elements, of both the human and technical kind, coming together in perfect harmony and existing in symbiotic relationship.

Director Michael Lugering has his own integrative method of actor training, which focuses on full expression through voice and body and is embodied by his excellent ensemble cast. Under his guidance, the focused actors rise above Rebeck’s sometimes troublesome script and manage to flesh out characters with psychological depth in ways they don’t exist on the page.

Izzy, Martin, Kate, and Douglas are hopeful, 20-something writers living in New York City who hire the sexist egomaniac Leonard, a once-celebrated novelist and now-embittered teacher, to critique their work. For $5,000 each, he agrees to hold a 10-week seminar for the students in the rich, Upper West Side family apartment of the waspish Kate.

But the story is not so much about the process of putting pen to paper as it is about analyzing the ego behind the pen. What the reprehensible Leonard does briefly read, he verbally rips to shreds. It is not the writing that he so viciously dissects, though. It is the true, essential nature of each student that he sees through their words, and he methodically and cruelly strips them bare.

While the play features intelligent, lofty wordplay and is often funny, it is also emotionally humiliating for each character, too. Through psychological warfare, Leonard prompts each self-absorbed student from a yearning for connection and validation to a quest for self-realization, and ultimately it is Martin whose journey carries the most weight.

Oddly misogynistic, the story falters with the character of Kate. Instead of moving forward, she devolves, making an about-face that is presumably meant to be empowering but serves to sell her out. We are able to forgive this bauble in the script, though, with Madison Kisst in the part. She gives Kate the strong foundation of an uptight yet loveable intellectual and, with self-deprecating, physical humor, brings much of the play’s comedy alive.

Guest artist Jeff Williams has an easy charisma as Leonard and ably delivers a sarcastic, vulgar wit.

He also finds tiny moments of tenderness and regret and takes advantage of a slight transformation without compromising character. Bernard C. Verhoeven as Douglas and Jasmine Mathews as Izzy both manage to give emotional depth and sweet humor to their narcissistic characters, who are more thinly written than the rest.

But the heart of the story belongs to the wonderful Jack Lafferty as the sensitive Martin. Meekly hidden at the beginning, he starts off quietly and slowly allows the character to reveal himself as tension builds. In his hands, all the integrity, altruism and self-doubt of a truly talented artist come to light.

The arts and crafts design of the revolving, platform set by Shannon Moore is stunning. The earthy colors are echoed in the costumes of Elizabeth LaRouche, which also serve to highlight relationships between characters; and the warm, technicolor hues of Manuel Ramirez’s lights further the effect, as do the woodsy cellos featured in Tom Egan’s sound design.

NCT’s production is a symbiotic, aesthetic work that pleases the eye as well as the intellect, but a drawback for some viewers may be the sexual situations, language and lack of intermission.

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