BWW Review: ADMISSIONS at TheatreLAB Grapples with White Privilege
TheatreLAB has a bit of a specialty in the work of playwright Joshua Harmon, having produced three of his four plays-"Bad Jews," "Significant Other" and now "Admissions," which premiered at Lincoln Center last year, winning several awards.
The play is set at Hillcrest, a private prep school in New England where the administration has been working for years to diversify its mostly white and wealthy student body. The administrators in question are Bill Mason, the school's headmaster, and his wife Sherri Rosen-Mason, its admissions director. Good liberals with good intentions, no doubt; but when the couple's son Charlie, a senior at the school, fails to get the early-decision acceptance from Yale he's hoped for, he explodes in a breathtaking rant of bratty pain and privilege.
Charlie spouts teenage bitterness and bile in a toe-curling dissection of the hypocrisies inherent in white liberal do-gooding. Hasn't he studied hard, played sports, worked for the school paper? Didn't he suffer in silence when an inferior (to his mind) writer who happens to be female got the position of editor of that paper?
And hasn't his best friend Perry, who's not quite his academic equal, but who has a biracial dad and a white mom, been given that place at Yale that should have been Charlie's? Clearly-it is so painfully clear to Charlie-he is a victim of reverse discrimination.
Charlie's not the only one suffering. His mother, in particular, is torn because she's spent fifteen years getting Hillcrest's minority population up from six to eighteen percent. She believes in her work; she believes it makes a difference. But Harmon shows us the defects in her efforts-the minority students admitted but not supported; the old-boy network that can get any rich white kid into the school.
As directed by Deejay Gray and acted by Tyler Stevens, Charlie's first-act eruption is riveting, an arresting reaction to white privilege denied. It leaves the audience breathless at intermission.
And in the second act, it's Sherri and Bill that explode-not like the immature Charlie, but with analogous outrage at being kept from what they want. It's a few months later, and while Charlie's thinking has evolved, Bill and Sherri have their own meltdowns. Donna Marie Miller as Sherri and David Clark as Bill are quite believable as a long-married couple, knee-jerk liberals whose self-satisfaction is painful to watch. They are trying so hard to be good, but no one goes blameless when the issue is race. Miller, in particular, turns in another very fine performance as a woman pushed to her limits and failing.
The play is very well made, with great truth-revealing devices provided by a couple of additional characters-Roberta (Jacqueline Jones), an older administrator at Hillcrest whose obtuseness frustrates Sherri, and Ginnie (Sara Collazo), Sherri's friend who's also Perry's mom. Scenes between Sherri and each of these characters peel back Sherri's mask and reveal her unconsciousness. Collazo's intensity in her final scene is especially arresting.
Connor Scudder's attractive set accommodates two playing areas well, but the set construction has visible seams that are distracting. Ruth Hedberg's costumes and Michael Jarrett's lighting are both perfect.
Gray has succeeded here with a bitingly funny comedy that leaves no audience member free of the pain of self-recognition. We're all on the hook. How great, and how necessary, to have the courage to face it.
At: TheatreLAB, The Basement, 300 E. Broad St.
Through: September 28
Tickets: $30 (general admission), $20 (seniors, industry, RVATA), $10 (students/teachers with ID)
Info: (804)-506=3533 or theatrelabrva.org
Photo credit: Tom Topinka