Monday, February 10, 2020

Apply Yourself to SPT’s “Admissions” – Smart, Funny, Mind-blowing

Benjamin McCormach in Admissions (John Ulman)
Seattle Public Theater
Through February 23, 2020

Playwright Joshua Harmon is a fearless writer. As demonstrated in his play, Bad Jews, and again, clearly, in his play, Admissions, now at Seattle Public Theater, he seems to take a topical subject and aim his pungent thoughts at just about every aspect of it! And he’s funny and writes smart dialogue that fill his characters with complicated, human feelings.

Director Annie Lareau pulls out all the complications imbedded in this story of an “admissions counselor,” Sherri (aptly and sensitively played by stage veteran Anne Allgood), who has worked tirelessly over that last 15 years to increase diversity at a very white, very old New England prep school. She is finally on the verge of gaining the coveted 20% mark for minorities which she and her husband, Bill (a lovely, acerbic Kevin McKeon), want to celebrate. Bill is also a school administrator.

But then, at the same time, their only child, high school graduating senior Charlie (Benjamin McCormack, who pulls out all the stops), receives the news that he has been “deferred” at his dream school, Yale. He also finds out that best friend, Perry, has been accepted! They dreamed of going together. Suddenly, Charlie is not so happy about his friend’s acceptance and wants to chalk it up to Perry’s being “Black” (Perry’s family is “mixed race”) because Charlie’s high school achievements are better than Perry’s and he “should” have priority acceptance!

Harmon looks at trying to figure out how inclusion can be win-win when schools such as Yale and Harvard have finite resources (freshman entrance spots) and an overabundance of qualified applicants. Studies have shown that inclusion increases creativity and understanding of people who are “not like you.” But scarcity means that including more people of color means to decrease the number of "white” students these universities can admit.

But Harmon goes deeper than that. Through his brilliant monologues of young Charlie – who goes through an enormous shift through the arc of the play – Harmon challenges us to think about what we are willing to sacrifice of our own privilege in favor of a fairer, more creative, more accepting world. Somehow, he also makes much of the play funny! He helps us laugh at society and our foibles and even our prejudices.

The production serves the play beautifully. Two additional cast members, Perry’s mother (Macall Gordon) and a teacher at the school (Barbara Lindsay) bring in other views that increase the 360 degree exploration. Every cast member does a great job with their character and dialogue.

The sound design with transition music is so important to listen to. D.R. Amromin includes subtle song choices that enhance the subtext. Amber Parker’s lighting design is key, too, as Christopher Mumaw’s elegant set of the interior of the house turns into a school office by simply relighting the room and changing a few table items.

This is a terrific show to bring your teenagers to if you are at all interested in deep conversations about important social concepts with them! This is a terrific show to see for everyone of every color and background to crack open a difficult topic where gray areas abound. Harmon doesn’t answer the questions, but he poses them accurately and rather completely.

For more information, go to or call 206-524-1300. 

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