PicksInSix Review: ADMISSIONS Theater Wit
BOLD ‘ADMISSIONS’ HOVERS ON A BUBBLE
The startling truths and sardonic humor in Joshua Harmon’s “Admissions,” directed by Jeremy Wechsler and now playing at Theater Wit, hover on a bubble that has been taking on air in every college admissions program across the nation in recent weeks. Much of what occurs in the lives of the liberal-minded Mason family–particularly to student Charlie Mason, played on the edge with reckless abandon by Kyle Curry in a breakout role–strikes directly at the relationship between parents and top-tier institutions that pursue diversity, gender balance, and a robust legacy program to bolster their national and international academic reputation and validate meteoric capital campaigns goals. As an example of what is at stake, Yale, the university of choice in the “Admissions” storyline, is, in real life, in the quiet phase of a new campaign now. The last one raised an astounding $3.88 billion, in 2011.
So, as you may have already gathered from the headlines, there is big money in higher education. You can bet that university administrators and board members have been reviewing policies and procedures from top to bottom after the recent cheating scandal that brokered influence, fraud and cash in exchange for a prestigious degree. Any one of those headlines could have emanated from the fictitious New Hampshire town in Theater Wit’s “Admissions,” where the Hillcrest Prep Boarding School produces high-quality candidates for the nation’s top schools. Sherri Rosen-Mason (Meighan Gerachis), the prep school’s by-the-numbers head of admissions, knows all sides of the equation. She is on a multi-year quest to improve student-body diversity, which in turn benefits her husband Bill (Stephen Walker), the school headmaster. In the meantime, their idealistic son Charlie (Curry) has multiple college applications pending. One application is to Yale, where his buddy, Perry, the product of a biracial marriage, has also applied.
The Mason’s upper middle-class home is rocked when Perry’s mother Ginnie (India Whiteside) receives a phone call saying that Perry has been accepted to Yale. When no similar call comes for Sherri, things start to implode as both Sherri and Bill face the prospect that Charlie’s academic future is in jeopardy. When Charlie returns and recounts his anger and humiliation at cultural bias and the unfairness of an admissions system that favored Perry, his parents are conflicted, which, in turn, allows Charlie to make a radical decision of his own.
Curry’s impassioned performance reflects his youthful frustration at the double standards that classify race, family heritage and entitlements, which then erupts in an unhinged confrontation with his parents about morality and ideals. No ethical stone is left unturned in Harmon’s concise script or in Curry’s spirited delivery of a stream-of-consciousness rant that is strikingly of-the-moment.
Gerachis is superb as the conflicted administrator, loving mother and soul-searching spouse who applies a separate set of professional policies when her son’s future is on the line. Walker’s no-nonsense parental approach is pivotal and powerful. Whiteside brings a compassionate sensibility to the role of Ginnie and is spot-on driving home the central argument about bias and race. Weschler’s five-member ensemble is rounded out with Judi Schindler as Roberta, the staff member who creates the admissions brochure in Hillcrest’s image with hilarious, single-minded enthusiasm.
The Theater Wit Two space has been transformed into a trimmed bi-level José Manuel Diaz-Soto interior that ingeniously transforms to the school’s admissions office--with lighting by Jessica Neill and costumes by Kotryna Hilko--allowing Harmon’s examination of how extraordinarily complex, and inescapably real, these issues are in our educational system to unfold in a brisk and intensely thought-provoking 100 minutes.
through May 12th
1229 W Belmont
For more reviews, visit: Theatre In Chicago