NYU or, otherwise, anyone who’s ever applied to a competitive school will feel the sting of “Admissions.” The new play, written by Joshua Harmon of “Significant Other” fame, portrays the various stages of anxiety one undergoes when faced with vying for a seat at metaphorical tables which have abhorrently low acceptance rates. It’s not only this though –– the show celebrates the increased diversity these exclusive institutions have wrought in recent years.
This is what lead character Sherri Rosen-Mason, portrayed by Tisch alumna Jessica Hecht, has received laurels for as head of admissions for the prestigious Hillcrest School in New Hampshire. But then things become personal: her high-achieving white Hillcrest son gets deferred from Yale University while his maybe less qualified, half-black best friend gets in. The intersection between diverse ideology and personal ambition results in an explosion of deeply pertinent questions revolving around the ethics of the admissions process wholly.
The embodiment of said explosion is Hecht’s performance. She begins the play with nothing but an upholstered professionalism on the sea of change she’s initiated at Hillcrest: growing the number of diverse applicants from 6 percent to 18 percent during her time, her diction and posture suggest unabashed pride. Yet Sherri’s keystone diversity initiative mutates into a hamartia of sorts when her son doesn’t receive a full acceptance to Yale, which results in an exceptionally emotionally complex portrayal.
Over the course of the play’s 105-minute runtime, she attempts to maintain her professionalism while her personal agenda gradually ebbs it away. Hecht ends the play with the same demeanor she starts with, but the audience’s feelings around her motives have become completely convoluted.
Not knowing how to feel is a simple way of describing a shared sentiment felt throughout the supporting cast. All around they’re genuinely decent, but special honors are designated to Sherri’s son Charlie Luther Mason (Ben Edelman). He explicitly imbues disparaging feelings over his Ivy League loss, which he expresses in an absolutely astounding extended monologue. Its length is at least 15 minutes, and in those 15 minutes Charlie becomes the mouthpiece for the qualms over proclaiming diversity in the admissions process. The audience laughs uncomfortably through it all, ostensibly both completely understanding but terrifyingly redacting what spouts from his mouth.
This laughter is somewhat par for the course. At its core, “Admissions” is a satirical play. It lances the hearts of esteemed intellectuals, which symptomatically skews white liberalism in the United States. Never mind how great the push for diversity may be, personal ambitions will perhaps inevitably blur the bigger picture. As the play progressively sizzles onward, it continually makes one ponder: is that OK? This is a question that perhaps has no finite answer, but “Admissions” makes it appear at least as something we must accept.
“Admissions” will run at the Lincoln Center Theater through May 6. Buy tickets here.
Email Matthew Holman at [email protected].