Joshua Harmon, writer of the wildly funny Bad Jews brings his new play, Admissions to Trafalgar Studios following a run at New York’s Lincoln Centre. Directed by Daniel Aukin there’s a sense that the audience should be shocked and outraged by what they see in this play, the problem is the production makes it too confusing to determine what exactly we should be angry about.
Sherri Rosen-Mason is wife of the Headmaster of Hillcrest prep school, and admissions officer of that very same institution. She presents herself as the very model of a liberal, making clear from the first scene that she has worked tirelessly to improve diversity within the school. This takes the form of admonishing Roberta (Margot Leicester) in the politest way possible, for only including three photos featuring students of colour in a brochure of fifty-two photos. Roberta retorts “I just don’t see race, I see people.” It’s an interesting opening scene, because it sets up the character of Sherri as rather unlikeable, and someone who demolishes their own arguments every time she opens her mouth, does she want diversity because it’s good, or just better numbers to parade?
Her son, Charlie is also a student at Hillcrest, he’s already been passed up for editor of the school newspaper in favour of a supposedly less qualified female student, on the assumption it was time for a female editor. Now he hasn’t attained his dream place at Yale, but his best friend Perry (who is mixed race) has been accepted, did the pursuit of diversity mean Charlie had to give up his place at the table to give someone else a seat?
Suddenly our liberal admissions officer has a fight on her hands, because her ideals suddenly disappear when her son’s future is at stake. It also sets her on a collision course with her own best friend, Perry’s mother (Sarah Hadland). Admissions oozes hypocrisy, and it is amusing at first, pulling in plenty of laughs from the audience, but you can almost feel a cringe-like sensation creep across the theatre as the dialogue becomes ever more divisive.
This play about diversity has an all-white cast, and Paul Wills set is comprised of white walls, white tables and a white kitchen, so we can only assume that this is entirely deliberate. The same kitchen set is used for both the Mason homestead and the school, which means you never really get a sense of the different locations. The volume at which the actors speak seems to increase with every scene, until it becomes just very shouty, although we are thankfully spared the four hours Charlie has spent shouting in the woods following his rejection letter.
But all that time alone doesn’t stop him shouting some more back in the kitchen. To be fair, Ben Edelman’s performance here is the highlight of the whole play, his ever escalating diatribe reaching a frenzied fever where you expect him to stamp his feet and declare “it’s just not fair”, like a two year old who’s had his toys taken off him. It’s really only Edelman and Alex Kingston in the role of Sherri who make their characters seem real, or perhaps that’s just the way it was written.
Admissions is certainly an interesting idea worth exploring as it aims to deliver an important message – it just doesn’t quite manage to do it in the one act it has to play with. This is the type of production that will get people talking after the performance, and will no doubt have generated much debate between friends and family members who see it together. But rather than provoke outrage inside the theatre, it will more likely create confusion and, possibly, irritation.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson