Theater review by Adam Feldman
Three separate times in Joshua Harmon’s Admissions, a white person tells another white person to look in the mirror. The goal is to check oneself for signs of privilege, as one might examine one’s skin for potentially cancerous moles. But the trickier question—and the subject of Harmon’s narrowly focused but well-argued issue play—is the right course of treatment if one finds something amiss. Jessica Hecht, using her affectlessness to good effect, plays the head of admissions at a New Hampshire prep school run by her husband, Bill (an aptly confident Andrew Garman). Both have worked successfully to increase diversity within the student body. But the values they espouse are tested when those ethics threaten the college prospects of their own bright and promising son, Charlie (Ben Edelman).
Like Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men, which will return on Broadway this summer, Admissions examines the tension between general principles and individual cases, which are messy with complications of merit and family loyalty. The audience responds with tension of its own. When I saw the play, Charlie’s long, frustrated rant about the unfairness of his situation was greeted with a smattering of ambiguous applause: Were people clapping for Edelman’s ardent performance, or the sharpness of the writing? Or were they expressing relief and delight at hearing things they secretly believed but would not say themselves? The nuanced and competing truths in Harmon’s 90-minute play are like a first act that dares its spectators to create a second out of postshow conversations. Mirror, mirror, on the stage: Who deserves our liberal rage?
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (Off Broadway). By Joshua Harmon. Directed by Daniel Aukin. With Jessica Hecht, Ben Edelman. Through Apr 29.
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