Monday, February 7, 2022

OnStage Playhouse’s “Admissions” Right Up There in High Quality Acting and Truths We Dare Not Admit.

Playwright Joshua Harmon best known to yours truly as the one who got it all wrong in his play “Bad Jews” seen some years back at Cygnet Theatre. Just the title alone sent chills up my spine. How does one define bad Jew?  And whose job is it to decide? The play didn’t sit right with me then and in retrospect it still not one of my best theatrical experiences.  But what do I know? It was a smash hit and remains the best- selling play in Studio history- called ‘wickedly funny’. 

But he got it right and hit the nail on the head with the current offering at OnStage Playhouse’s 2018 play  “Admissions” deftly directed by artistic director James P. Darvas. and starring an overall excellent cast with Wendy Waddell (Sherri) and Tom Steward (Bill) as the as husband and wife team acting as headmaster and dean of admissions at a small, nearly all white college at Hillcrest, a mid-tier New Hampshire prep school. This time Harmon zero’s in on race, you know, the word Whoopi Goldberg has a hard time defining!

Anna Sandor and Wendy Waddell

Exquisitely mounted on the small stage at OnStage (Filipe Ramirez), the play opens in Sherri’s office with quick tempered Sherri questioning, or more like admonishing her administrator Roberta (Anna Sandor) for not including more students of color on the school’s latest brochure. “Equality”, Diversity” and Inclusion” (E.D.I.) she rants have always been my goal. According to Sherri, for fifteen years she has taken the school from 4%students of color to 18%. Both she and her liberal minded husband, Bill have always fought for E.D.I. that is especially where the school is concerned. 

Outside the walls of Sherri’s office, and in their living quarters, their son Charlie (Devin Wade) is expecting to get into Yale. He and his best buddy, lifelong friends, both filled out applications for admittance to Yale (the big important Ivy League school). Grades aside, his BFF Perry is of mixed race and everyone, (Sherri, Bill and Charlie) is convinced that Perry checked off the box that said Black. Their conclusion: Perry got accepted because he pulled the black card and Charlie was put on the back burner. 

What? What?

Moving on to world war three, Sherri and Perry’s mother Ginnie (Holly Stephenson), best of friends for years get into a kerfuffle that that puts their friendship at risk and the true feelings Sherri harbors. Their friendship ended right before our eyes. But not before Charlie went into a ten minute tirade as to why he should have been selected, even going so far as to bring affirmative action, diversity and the Holocaust for reasons he did not get accepted.  After some dubious denials, both Sherri and Bill, contrary to their liberal cloth, seem to agree with their son.

Tom Steward and Devin Wade

Hypocrites all, each character gets to say his or her true feelings when the you -know what- hits the fan. Waddell, who always brings a strong performance to all of her works, succeeds in convincing us that as the pendulum swings back and forth, what she says as opposed to what she thinks she thinks are at odds with themselves. And if that sounds confusing, you can imagine how Sandor’s Roberta felt after she was raked over the coals for not showing enough black faces in her quest to even out the pictures in the admissions catalogue.  “Do you care if the school is diverse?”

Tom Steward gives a masterful offering when trying to talk his son out of his turn about on what his future plans are (no spoiler) calling him “an overprivileged brat” and Devon Wade’s performance as Charlie, the slighted and rejected teenager has to be one of the most passionate pleas I’ve heard on why he’s right about his right to be accepted into Yale. Both Holly Stephenson and Anna Sandor add to the overall depth of the 75 minute show. 

The cast is all white and one must wonder how many seeing the show when it first premiered in NY in 2018 at Lincoln Center were multi- racial or was it before so much emphasis was put on racial balance in school ‘admissions.

My white friends, he’s talking to the liberal white in all of us.

Ginnie Stephenson and Wendy Waddell

“Whiteness: white privilege, white power, white anxiety, white guilt all of it...this play is trying to hold up a mirror to white liberalism, while remaining very conscious of the fact that this is just one narrow slice of a much larger conversation.”   * Studio Theatre.

Credits: Lighting design to Kevin”Blax” Burroughs, sound to Estefania Ricalde, costume design to Pam Stompoly- Erikson, Estefania Ricalde stage manager and photo credit to Ana Carolina Chiminazzo.

You won’t want to miss this production to see where you stand, on a scale of 1 to 10, on the racial equality conundrum and of course the fine production. 

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 27.

Where: OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Ave., Chula Vista

Tickets: $22-$25.

Phone: (619) 422-7787


COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccine required or negative result from COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of showtime. Masks required indoors.


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