BWW Review: Seattle Public Theater's ADMISSIONS Tackles White Privilege with Humor
As a white man I can recognize the privilege that has been afforded me throughout my life. That's not to say I didn't work hard for what I've achieved, nor to say I haven't had hard times, but that underlying privilege has always been there. But is recognizing your privilege enough? How far do you go to counteract it? Do you accept it when it's presented? Do you resent it when it works against you? These heady questions are at the center the Joshua Harmon's comedy "Admissions", currently playing at Seattle Public Theater. You read that right, comedy. Just like his previous hit "Bad Jews", Harmon manages to tackle some hot button topics and spin them so you might not notice you're thinking about them since you're laughing so hard.
In this story we meet upper middle-class white couple Sherri Rosen-Mason and Bill Mason (Anne Allgood and Kevin McKeon), administrators at a New England prep school and both devout liberals struggling to make sure that their school becomes more diverse. In fact Sherri, who runs the admissions office of the school, battles with this daily. But when their son, Charlie (Benjamin McCormack) is not accepted, but deferred, on his admission to Yale, but his half-black best friend Perry gets in, it opens a can of worms of guilt and petty recriminations about who deserves to succeed and why.
And this is a comedy! No really, it is, and a quite funny one at that. Harmon's fresh, crisp dialog shines as he slips in this volatile topic while you're laughing but also, he never makes the point for you. He introduces several sides to this situation and allows the audience to come to their own conclusions which is the difference between a good playwright and a lecturer. But even amid this, at its heart it's a family story and director Annie Lareau takes us through it beautifully. The pacing is outstanding keeping the story on point and never lagging and her direction of the actors digging into the core of these characters is fantastic. As is this gorgeous set from Christopher Mumaw.
The ensemble is superb as they play catch with the power of the scenes. There are a bunch of monologues that happen here, but it never becomes static or droning thanks to the ensemble and Lareau. Allgood and McKeon show off just how amazing they both are. Allgood's desperation to protect her son is stunningly at odds with her desire to do the right thing and you can see that anguish all over her face. And McKeon brings in a quiet strength to the role making the moments where he lets loose all the greater. McCormack is mesmerizing as the kid in the middle of this and his arc is outstanding as is his ability to tackle some of the larger and more pointed monologues and make them riveting. Rounding out the cast are Macall Gordon as the mother of Charlie's best friend who manages to bring yet another side to the argument to the table wonderfully, and Barbara Lindsay who hilariously doesn't quite get what kind of diversity Sherri is looking for in the school's brochure.
With the highly publicized admissions scandals in the news, a show like this is quite topical and it does an amazing job of entertaining while giving you plenty to think about. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Seattle Public Theater's production of "Admissions" a laugh provoked YAY. It may not solve the matter by then end, but it'll certainly give you plenty to talk about on the way home.
"Admissions" performs at Seattle Public Theater through February 23rd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlepublictheater.org.