Joshua Harmon’s Admissions at Trafalgar Studios Confronts White Liberals in Denial

18/03/2019

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Joshua Harmon’s Admissions: Trafalgar Studios, London. 16.3.2019. (CSa)

Alex Kingston (Sherri) Andrew Woodall (Bill) & Ben Edelman (Charlie) (c) Johan Persson

Production:

Director – Daniel Aukin
Set and Costume designer- Paul Wills
Lighting designer- Oliver Fenwick
Sound designer – Gregory Clarke

Cast:

Sherri Rosen Mason – Alex Kingston
Roberta – Margot Leicester
Ginnie Peters – Sarah Hadland
Bill Mason – Andrew Woodall
Charlie Luther Mason – Ben Edelman

A coincidence or merely part of an historical progression? Last week, Operation Varsity Blues – a huge FBI-led college cheating scandal – was uncovered in the US. It alleges bribery and fraud by wealthy parents desperate to get their children into Ivy League schools, and willing to do anything to achieve it. At about the same time, Joshua Harmon’s highly topical play, Admissions, transferred to London’s Trafalgar Studios after a successful run at New York ‘s Lincoln Centre this time last year. Harmon’s last play, Bad Jews, examined religious faith and cultural identity within a liberal Jewish family. He uses the family setting again in his latest work. It provides a good context in which to explore pre-existing but less egregious examples of prejudice and hypocrisy within the US educational system: a system historically skewed to secure the admission of predominantly white, rich and privileged students to America’s top academic institutions.

Sherri Rosen Mason (well-realised by Alex Kingston) is the admissions officer at Hillcrest, a New Hampshire prep school. She proudly boasts to her elderly and world-weary administrator Roberta (sympathetically portrayed by Margot Leicester), that she has ‘worked like a dog’ over 15 years to increase the intake of students of colour from 4-19%. Poor Roberta is ordered to increase the number of students of colour from a mere 3 captured in the 53 photos in the school brochure to something more representative. ‘Do you not care if this school is diverse?’ asks Sherri reprovingly.

Would Sherri’s lofty educational ideals extend to her own son Charlie’s application to Yale? She and husband Bill (Andrew Woodall), who just happens to be Hillcrest’s acerbic headmaster, are the ultimate pushy parents. When they learn that Charlie has been deferred, and Charlie’s friend Perry – designated ‘black’ on account of his white mother Ginnie (Sarah Hadland) and biracial father – has been unconditionally accepted, we witness a familial meltdown of operatic proportions. The object of Sherri and Bill’s failed aspirations (for it’s all about their ambition), and the inevitable target of their increasing desperation, is their immature and headstrong son Charlie, played by the young American actor Ben Edelman.

As the play develops, we must deal with Charlie’s anger. We see him for the first time in the third scene, stomping into his parents’ comfortable open plan kitchen, or pounding up the staircase to his bedroom, and raging uncontrollably about the injustices of a system which preferred Perry (‘who ticked more boxes’) over him. At one point, in the course of a crazed monologue, he rails against the School’s decision, which he wildly attributes to a bias against whites generally and to his Jewish heritage in particular. ‘I would really like to meet the person who decides who counts as a person of colour and who doesn’t’, he fumes… ‘Cause 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 [because]…they found a new way to keep Jews out. They made us white instead!’

Surprisingly, Charlie’s bitter disappointment meets with little sympathy from his so-called liberal parents. Dad puzzlingly, and without acknowledging an iota of responsibility, accuses his son of being ‘an overprivileged brat’ while Mum wonders aloud whether they have a contact at Yale who could somehow oil the wheels.

Most astonishing, though, is Charlie’s furious and unexplained turnabout in the play’s last 15 minutes, and the extreme nature of his parents anger in response.

Although Harmon’s fulminating characters lack subtlety, and differing points of view tend to take the form of bellowed harangues rather than modulated exchanges, there is much that rings uncomfortably true in Daniel Aukin’s production. Undeniable are the relevance and urgency of the matters under discussion, not least the role played by liberal whites in perpetuating a broken system. In this regard, the most recent allegations of bribery and corruption exposed by Operation Varsity Blues serve as the gravest examples.

Chris Sallon

For more information about Admissions click here.

 

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • UPDATED ONLINE NEWS! IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC Proms turns 125 years old – 17 July to 12 September 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera North in 2020-2021 – postponements and plans __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Glyndebourne Festival Opera opens for a 2020 summer season __________________________________
  • NEW! Baritone Federico Longhi’s Rigoletto is part of Parma’s June Verdian renaissance __________________________________
  • NEW! 69th Wexford Festival Opera – 11 to 18 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Dresden’s Semperoper reopens with Anna Netrebko on 19 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal in 2020-21 __________________________________
  • NEW! LMP’s first UK chamber orchestra performances since Covid-19 struck __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Lieder Festival – 10-17 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Metropolitan Opera (2020–)2021 season update __________________________________
  • NEW! Royal Opera House announces first live concert since beginning of lockdown __________________________________
  • NEW! Semi-staged Das Rheingold on Deutsche Oper Berlin’s parking deck from 12 June __________________________________
  • NEW! A breath of fresh air: Opera Holland Park announces 2021 season __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2020 Found Season – 4 June to 12 July __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2020 Salzburg Festival – 1 to 30 August __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival’s 2020 online series of concerts and talks __________________________________
  • The Singapore Symphony in 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! We’ll be back! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra weathering the Covid-19 storm __________________________________
  • NEW! World Ballet School Day – inaugural edition 7 July 2020 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Longborough Festival Opera launches podcast and extraordinary generosity of the audience __________________________________
  • NEW! The Music Critics Association of North America Best New Opera Award to Blue __________________________________
  • NEW! Lincoln Center honors Pride with a light installation on its iconic plaza __________________________________
  • R.I.P. Dame Vera Lynn (1917-2020): Did we really need Vera Lynn during the war? __________________________________
  • NEW! What price Sherlock Holmes? __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC to show the ROH’s first post-lockdown performance and their other recent music news __________________________________
  • NEW! Woody Allen comes back fighting with a book and A Rainy Day in New York __________________________________
  • NEW! Educating Rita, says who? __________________________________
  • NEW! 2020 Three Choirs Festival – postponed __________________________________
  • NEW! ACCOMPANIST OR PARTNER? PIANIST SUSIE ALLAN IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN QUINN __________________________________
  • NEW! Need to escape reality? Enter into the magical world of composer David Hertzberg __________________________________
  • NEW! BTHVN2020 – Beethoven anniversary goes into overtime __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month