March 21, 2018
With the zeal of a missionary, Jessica Hecht blazes access-trails from private institutions of learning directly to students of color. Her goal is to redress the imbalance that has simmered for too many years due to America's inherent racism.
“Admissions” the new, thought-provoking play by Joshua Harmon at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater examines the conflict surrounding the hair-raising process of applying to schools. It cracks open the conflict between the liberal do-gooder who labors to assist the underprivileged, only to question the impact of such policies on one’s own family members.
When Jane (Hecht), the head of Admissions at a New Hampshire boarding school proudly ticks off the percentage of growth of minority students, her husband (Bill Mason) the school’s headmaster beams. They applaud their successes in raising funds to support a wide range of scholarships with the clink of wine glasses.
Another thread that tightens the comi-drama follows a female board member Roberta (Ann McDonough)— who volunteers to once again take shots of the school body for the annual yearbook. But somehow, her photographs don’t convey the schools famed diversity. Even when Roberta photographs students of color, the exasperated Hecht complains they appear too “light” in the photographs. Over and over again, Hecht finds fault with reality.
Topping-off the escalating conflict is Hecht’s senior-level son Ben’s (Charlie Luther Mason) own anxiety about college applications. One of the brightest students in the school, Ben’s stunned to learn he was denied access to his first choice school Yale, while his less intellectually esteemed pal is admitted. At first this just looks like the luck of the draw. But soon, it's revealed that his friend, the son of a bi-racial family, checked the box for “African American.”
This revelation results in one of the productions high points—a screed trumpeted to the heavens by an apoplectic Ben. Not since Daveed Digg’s lightening fast proclamations as Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton” has an actor delivered as dense and extended a rant sans the benefit of a rap beat.
Words trip over one another questioning entitlement, the importance of being excellent, following the rules, making hard decisions and then embracing one's idealistic beliefs resulting a final decision that shocks Ben's mother and father.
This memorable, nearly 20-minute speech leaves the audience fully exhausted. Applause meets the end of Ben’s full-throated aria to the point where he could’ve bowed and executed an encore.
Directed with aplomb by Daniel Aukin, family affairs slip apart and Ben falls into a depression. A very timely production, “Admissions” will ring in your ears for days to come.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis