‘Admissions’ at GableStage offers provocative drama about privilege, race

In these fractious times, when Americans seemingly agree on next to nothing, the hot-button issues that speak to playwrights are in endless supply.

Racial conflict, workplace violence, terrorist attacks, immigration backlash, police brutality, sexual assault, bullying and teen suicide are in the news — and on many a stage.

At GableStage through Nov. 11, Joshua Harmon’s “Admissions” thrusts the politics and realities of diversity efforts into the spotlight.

Harmon, whose darkly funny “Bad Jews” was a hit for the company in 2014, is masterful when it comes to making audiences laugh, squirm and think. So are artistic director Joseph Adler and this particular cast: GableStage veterans Tom Wahl, Elizabeth Dimon and Barbara Sloan, along with first-timers Joshua Hernandez and Erika Scotti.

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Tom Wahl’s Bill talks to Joshua Hernandez as his son Charlie in Joshua Harmon’s “Admissions” at GableStage.


Their version of a play fresh from its spring world premiere at New York’s Lincoln Center may bring to mind Bette Davis’ admonition from “All About Eve.” You remember: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Scotti and Wahl play Sherri Rosen-Mason and her husband Bill. She’s the head of admissions at Hillcrest, a prep/boarding school in New Hampshire where Bill is headmaster. At a critical point, we learn that the two have stayed in their jobs in part to help their bright only child Charlie (Hernandez) achieve his dream of going to Yale, thus securing a sky’s-the-limit future.

Proud of her diversity efforts at Hillcrest — during her tenure, the student body has grown from 6 percent students of color to 18 percent — Sherri is not at all happy when her associate Roberta (Dimon) shows her the school’s proposed new admissions brochure. In 52 photos, only three students of color are pictured. And in Sherri’s view, the photo of Charlie’s best friend Perry — son of the school’s biracial English teacher and a white mom — doesn’t get the diversity message across strongly enough.

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Joshua Hernandez’s Charlie and Erika Scotti’s Sherri have words about diversity in Joshua Harmon’s “Admissions” at GableStage.


Plain-spoken Roberta, miffed at the prospect of redoing the brochure, protests that she doesn’t see color. When prickly Sherri persists, the older woman pointedly asks, “So what do you want, Sherri? More dark-skinned ones?” Precisely. That’s the calculus of Sherri’s message.

Bill and Sherri passionately do believe in providing more opportunities for students of color, and they have steeped Charlie in their values. So it comes as a shock when, after the slightly less accomplished Perry gets early admission to Yale and Charlie is wait-listed, their son goes on an epic rant mixing racism with fury at the denial of his white privilege. That stunning and unsettling speech, expertly crafted by Harmon and dazzlingly delivered by Hernandez, is a killer.

So is Bill’s response. A sampling: “Wow. Wow. What a spoiled brat. Spoiled little over-privileged brat….So you didn’t get into Yale. So you’ll go to Dartmouth. You’ll go to Duke. And you’ll be fine. And you know how I know you’ll be fine? Because you’re a white guy and you don’t have Down syndrome. I’m not worried. …”

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Erika Scotti, left, and Barbara Sloan play the mothers of prep school students in Joshua Harmon’s “Admissions” at GableStage.


Soon enough in Harmon’s searing, 90-minute play, true feelings surface. Sherri and Charlie offend and alienate Ginnie (Sloan), who is Perry’s mom and their longtime friend. Repentant, Charlie comes up with a plan to turn his back on white privilege, enraging both parents. The play’s bumpy twists and turns make for a fascinating ride.

Fresh off his great and disturbing performance in GableStage’s “White Guy on the Bus,” Wahl crafts another unsettling gem as Bill. Scotti, still reaching for a line now and then, handles Sherri’s personal pendulum swing on diversity well. Sloan gives one of her best performances to date as the warm, then furious, Ginnie. The artful, deeply skilled Dimon makes Roberta a plain-spoken New Hampshire native who is completely comfortable at speaking truth to power. Hernandez, a Florida State University grad, is convincing and compelling as a privileged teen getting his first hard lesson in the way the world works.

Set designer Lyle Baskin, with props by Beth Fath and lighting by Steve Welsh, has created a handsome home for the Masons and an upscale office for Sherri. Costume designer Ellis Tillman gets the prep school aesthetic and Roberta’s New England-in-winter wear just right. Matt Corey threads everything together with his sound design and music.

Theater comes in all shapes, sizes and genres. At GableStage, Adler gravitates toward provocative contemporary plays that often leave his audiences looking inward. “Admissions” — well-written, well-staged, well-acted — is an absorbing drama and a prod to self-examination.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, music, film and performing arts news.

If you go

  • What: ‘Admissions’ by Joshua Harmon.
  • Where: GableStage in the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables.
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 11.
  • Cost: $42-$60 (students $15 Thursday and Sunday evenings).
  • Information: 305-445-1119 or www.gablestage.org.