When talking about the inspiration behind new play, Admissions, writer Joshua Harmon points to his central character Sherri Rosen-Mason: “I knew a lot of Sherris growing up, and in my experience, it struck me that often those who were the most vocal about a cause also tended to be the first to pick up the phone to call in a favour so their kid still got everything he wanted.”
Hypocrisy lies at the heart of this play and this time Harmon’s savage satirical pen is aimed at the liberal left. In the Rosen-Mason family, Harmon personifies political correctness gone mad. A white upper-middle class couple who spout all the right words while bulldozing their way through life, with little genuine care for any people they are supposedly helping, including their son. To give you the level of their delusion, Sherrie bleats: ‘the struggle is real’ during an early conversation about the family’s financial situation while propped-up against a pristine work surface in a spacious kitchen most people couldn’t even dream of. A huge dose of perspective is about to be pithily delivered.
Sherri (played by the brilliant Alex Kingston) is Head of Admissions at Hillcrest, a fictional private school in the USA where her husband Bill (a pompous and cold, Andrew Woodall) is Head of School. Her whole focus is on increasing the diversity of the school intake, but this positive change is delivered in a self-serving, virtue-signalling way that has her sneering at well-meaning, older member of staff, Roberta (Margot Leicester) for being, ‘so white’.
The couple’s self-righteous vision of the world starts to fall apart when son, Charlie Luther Mason (named after Martin Luther King) fails to win a place at Yale, while his best friend, Perry, also the son of Sherri’s best friend, Ginnie (Miranda’s Sarah Hadland) is accepted. Perry’s dad is bi-racial, and Charlie initially believes that his friend won a place over him because he ‘ticks more boxes’ for admission’s staff.
When pushed by his parents to explain his low mood, what follows is a diatribe of confused anger and frustration. Some of the content is so extreme there is a warning on the door before you enter the auditorium, and the rant ends with Charlie, who is Jewish, raising his arm in a Nazi salute.
Ben Edelman is part of the original American cast, from the play’s opening at New York’s Lincoln Centre Theatre. As Charlie, he captures the confusion of a young generation, open, accepting, and naively horrified at his first brushes with unfairness in life.
In a hopeful turn, he climbs down from his outraged rejection to attempt to do something he believes will make a genuine change and help his mum get to the 20% diversity quota she has been aiming for. He recognises all change involves sacrifice. But it’s a bitter pill his parents aren’t ready to swallow. Given the recent revelations that dozens of wealthy Americans, including celebrities, paid to get their children into Ivy League Universities, Admissions is a topical, thought-provoking, hour-and-45 minutes, that holds up a magnifying mirror to the liberal left then smashes it to pieces.★ ★ ★ ★
Admissions by Joshua Harmon is at The Lowry, Salford Quays from 17-22 June 2019.