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by Lucy Komisar and Paulanne Simmons


Lucy Komisar

"Admissions" asks who decides who pays
and gets reparations for minorities

Jessica Hecht as Sherri Rosen-Mason, Andrew Garman as her husband Bill Mason, and Ben Edelman as their son Charlie. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Written by Joshua Harmon, directed by Daniel Aukin.
Mitzi Newhouse theater at Lincoln Center, 165 West 65 Street, New York City.
(212) 239-6200, http://www.lct.org/
Opened March 12, 2018; closes May 6, 2018.
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar March 21, 2018.

Clever, funny, challenging, not totally persuasive, "Admissions" tells of the family crisis when Charlie (the terrific Ben Edelman), son of parents with top jobs at Hillcrest, an expensive second-tier prep boarding school in rural New Hampshire, doesn’t get into Yale.

The father runs the school, the mother is admissions officer, and they are committed to diversity. But Charlie thinks his friend Perry – child of middle class black father and white mother– got in because he checked the "black" box.

Written by Joshua Harmon, who has a gift for dialogue, directed by Daniel Aukin who moves events at a lively pace, it’s a play of the political moment.

Charlie has already had diversity problems when Olive Opatovsky, who he insists can’t write, was named editor of the student newspaper instead of him, because (he says) she was female. He declares, "I am Tony Morrison compared to her."

There are throwaway lines about not reading "Moby Dick" anymore because it’s by a dead white man.

Jessica Hecht as Sherri Rosen-Mason and Ann McDonough as Roberta. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Meanwhile, his mother, Sherri Rosen-Mason (the always brilliant Jessica Hecht, low key till she explodes), the school admissions officer, has admonished staffer Roberta (Ann McDonough), who you have to feel sorry for – in her 70s, she has been through it all — because she has not put enough photos of people of color in the outreach booklet. In case you don’t pick up, Rosen is Jewish, Mason is her wasp husband.

Charlies rants against the system:

"And then Cristobal Hernandez was like, I’m also sick of all these white books and I was like, Cristobal! YOU’RE WHITE TOO! And he was like, are you fucking kidding me?

And I was like, NO! I’M NOT! Look in a mirror. You’re white. You’re from Chile. Who is from Chile who’s white? Indigenous people weren’t white, African slaves weren’t white, if you’re white, that means your ancestors were colonizers, not the colonized, that’s like the only way you end up white unless you’re albino and you don’t seem albino to me, and Joanna was like, maybe you could shut up and listen for once and I was like I do listen, all the time, but also, class participation is a huge part of my grade so if I don’t speak, it actually hurts my chances of getting into a good college cause I don’t have any special boxes to check, so sorry if the sound of my voice is so upsetting but I actually have no choice I have to talk my whole future depends on it."

Jessica Hecht as Sherri Rosen-Mason and Ben Edelman as her son Charlie. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

"At which point Priscilla Chen agreed with me, so Cristobal turned on her and I was like, hold up. Priscilla’s dad is an immigrant from Taiwan. Your dad is a Chilean ambassador who’s clearly descended from a bunch of white people, but when Priscilla applies to college she goes in the shit pile too, cause Asian people are actually dealing with a whole bunch of quotas right now, but maybe you’d like to explain why you would be thrilled if we replaced Willa Cather with an Asian writer, but if that Asian writer has a kid applying to college, then everyone suddenly stops caring that that kid is a person of color."

And who decides? "My Mom’s dad had to escape before like half his family was murdered by Nazis, but now when we all apply to college, I go in the shit pile too, even though my grandfather couldn’t get into an Ivy League seventy years ago because they had super intense quotas against Jews, but– shocker!– they found a new way to keep Jews out: they just made us white instead, and the grandsons of Nazis who came to America go in the exact same pile as me, which makes absolutely no sense, and the grandsons of Nazis who ran away to South America go in an EVEN BETTER PILE, which makes EVEN LESS SENSE, alongside you, Cristobal Hernandez, direct descendant of murderous, genocidal Spanish conquistadors, but I tell you what, I bet my grandfather’s cousins would’ve given anything to be Spanish conquistadors instead of corpses in Auschwitz. "

Andrew Garman as Bill Mason and Ben Edelman as his son Charlie. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Makes some sense. Who pays for history?

Sherri is not above calling in some favors to get him admitted at least to Middlebury. But Charlie decides he will not take advantage of white privilege; he will go to a community college. He writes in the school paper that his parents should donate his college fund to a scholarship for minority kids. Is this out of pique, to take affirmative action to a logical absurd conclusion? The parents are furious.

Charlie’s father Bill Mason (Andrew Garman) is nasty, calls him a spoiled brat. "I raised a Republican." If he goes to community college he will get no cash, will have to work for tuition and board. He is screwed.

Here’s where I have a problem with verisimilitude. Freeing up a place at Middlebury doesn’t mean it will go to a black kid. It could go to a privileged white kid. Charlie seems to just want to get back at his affirmative action parents and meanwhile shoot himself in the foot.

Sally Murphy as Ginnie Peters and Jessica Hecht as Sherri Rosen-Mason. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Then Perry’s mother Ginnie Peters (Sally Murphy), who is white, tells Sherri that her black husband who teaches at the school was not given the chance to run it even though Bill Mason had no more qualifications.

We’ve read about angry white kids who didn’t get into a college that had affirmative action for minorities. And it’s clear that the system to set things right is flawed – the child of a rich Argentinian gets points for a Hispanic name. I’ve always though affirmative action should be based on family income, nothing else. Poor white Appalachian kids should be privileged over the children of wealthy black doctors. But that is class over identity, not popular in the fake "we don’t have classes" meme.

One person in the audience told me she didn’t see many black people there. Another said he was sitting near a black man who laughed a lot.

So, not a great play but tuned-in, well-acted and has a lot to say about a very divisive social issue.


Visit Lucy’s website http://thekomisarscoop.com

Paulanne Simmons

Parents, Privilege and Prejudice in “Admissions”

Jessica Hecht as Sherri Rosen-Mason and Ben Edelman as her son Charlie. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Directed by Daniel Aukin
Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65 Street
Opened March 12, 2018
Tues - Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 3p
Tickets: $92 www.telecharge.com
Closes May 6, 2018
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 14, 2018

Anyone who has ever gone to or been on the faculty of an exclusive private school in New England (and haven’t we all?) will immediately recognize the setting of Joshua Harmon’s new play, “Admissions.”

Sarcasm aside, “Admissions,” directed by Daniel Aukin and featuring the always glowing Jessica Hecht as Sherri Rosen-Mason head of admissions at Hillcrest, and Andrew Garman as her husband who is head of the school, is an issue play that’s almost as good as that kind of drama gets.

Jessica Hecht as Sherri Rosen-Mason and Ann McDonough as Roberta. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The play opens with Sherri trying to convince Roberta (Ann McDonough) from development, to include more people of color in the school catalogue. The long-suffering but not terribly likable Roberta is resistant. How many minorities, she asks. And just how dark must they be to qualify?

Having firmly established Sherri’s politics, we soon see her with Ginnie Peters (Sally Murphy), who is married to a black English professor at the school. They are both enthusiastic over the possibility that the school will soon reach 19 percent minority enrollment.

Everything seems peachy until the Sherri’s son, Charlie Luther (after the Civil Rights leader, not the 16th century father of Protestantism) Mason, comes home in a righteous anger at his failure to be accepted to Yale. His rejection is especially painful because his friend, Perry (son of Roberta and her black husband) has been accepted.

When his father gets home, Charlie subjects them both (and the audience) to a long tirade on the many inconsistencies in liberal politics, a few of which actually make sense. Although Harmon has made his point long before Charlie finishes, his outburst is quite a tour-de-force.

Charlie’s mother tries to remain calm and understanding. His father explodes in language so brutal it should make any parent cringe. He simply cannot understand how he raised such a spoiled, racist son.

But then something unexpected happens. Charlie has second thoughts. And those second thoughts lead him to take actions neither anticipated nor appreciated by his parents. Charlie wants his parents to recognize their own hypocrisy. His parents want him to follow the rules of advancement they’ve laid down.

ADMISSIONS -- Jessica Hecht as Sherri Rosen-Mason, Andrew Garman as her husband Bill Mason, and Ben Edelman as their son Charlie. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Despite superb performances all around, it’s hard to attach much credibility to this turn of events. Why has Charlie had this sudden change of heart? The most logical conclusion is that he wants to stick it to his parents (especially his insufferable father). Or perhaps having not been admitted to Yale, he wants to show the world he really doesn’t care.

However, neither of these alternatives seems to be related to what the author has to say.

No doubt “Admissions” raises some very important issues about race, class, equality in education and parenting. But as a drama, it’s not quite at the top of the class.


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