BWW Review: Good Theater's ADMISSIONS Explores race, Privilege, and Parental Dilemmas
The Good Theater opens its season with Joshua Harmon's powerful and persuasive drama about class and race, aspiration in America, and the complexities of navigating a world where nothing is black and white, no matter how much one wishes it so. ADMISSIONS is a stunningly astute choice for 2019, though it was written long before recent headlines and made its Lincoln Center debut in 2018. As Executive/Artistic Director Brian P. Allen expands the Good's season to five main stage plays and four Second Stage shows, this Maine premiere of Harmon's play represents Allen's keen sense of the moment and what is excellent drama.
The five-character drama takes place in a fictional prep school, Hillcrest, which serves as a feeder to the Ivy League colleges on which fortunes and dreams are built. The couple who stand at the center pf the Hillcrest - Headmaster Mason and his wife Admissions Director Sherri Rosen-Mason - have dedicated their careers to the excellence of education the school represents, at the same time that they have advocated passionately for more diverse profiles in admissions and student life. The conflicts that sere them all occur as their son, Charlie, an excellent student, reaches his senior year and must thrust himself into the crucible of college admissions, which is now no longer a theoretical issue for the family.
Harmon's script manages to attack the complex issues- both institutional and familial - from every angle with empathy, and this is no small feat. The two-hour drama keeps the audience vacillating in its sympathies as each entity makes his/her case with passion and persuasiveness, It is a play which keeps the human dimension in mind and avoids characters who are stereotypes or statements which are "propaganda." He writes dialogue with amazing fluidity, and he is not afraid to raise the issues and leaves them unsolved.
Brian P. Allen directs with insight, passion, and a brilliant sense of rhythm and stillness. Steve Underwood's set and sound design (Craig Robinson, Tech Director, Jared Mongeau Props) are perfectly calibrated, while Ian Odlin accomplishes the necessary lighting/locale changes. Costume Designer Justin Cote make s everyone look prep school perfect.
The five-person cast turns in strong performances with the luxury of being headlined by Valerie Perri. Perri makes a sympathetic Sherri Rosen-Mason, hard-working, idealistic admissions officer whose work principles are ultimately in conflict with her instinct as mother. She is a master of the scene - knowing when to listen, when to be still, and when to give it all. James Noel Hoban makes a perfect foil as her husband, the Headmaster Bill Mason, less patient than his wife, but still believable and touching. Griffin Carpenter turns in an impassioned performance as the conflicted, emotionally tortured son Charlie. His take on the character is awkward, edgy, outré - perhaps a touch too reminiscent of his star turn in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG - but compelling all the same. The cast is rounded our by a warm performance by Laura Houck as Ginny, Sherri's sister-in-law, and Amy Roche, as a seemingly dim Development Officer, who adds an edgy humor to the dialogue.
Good Theater opens with a vibrant, new, topical play, directed and produced with insightfulness, acted with passion and commitment - a harbinger of the 18thseason ahead!
Photos Courtesy of the Good Theater, Steven Underwood, photographer
ADMISSIONS runs from October 2- October 27, 209 at Good Theater, 76 Congress St., Portland ME 04101 www.goodtheater.com207-835-0895