Warning: Spoilers ahead!
An elite New England prep school run by a liberal white couple, salted by the ramblings of their “Republican” son, and peppered with misconstrued ideas about sharing space in positions of power—Seattle Public Theater’s production Admissions suggests that power and its distribution among white, “progressive” individuals is a complex issue.
Sherri Rosen-Mason (Anne Allgood) is the head of admissions at Hillcrest Preparatory School. Her husband, Bill Mason (Kevin McKeon), is the headmaster, and so it’s no surprise that their son, Charlie Luther Mason (Benjamin McCormack), attends his parents’ institution. The piece relays the presence of whiteness as a prominent issue in college admissions through said characters, each which have unique yet flawed ideologies about how diversity plays into the admissions process.
To start, Sherri is not the submissive housewife type. Rather, this woman is dead set on her mission: “increasing diversity” at Hillcrest. To her, “increasing diversity” simply means raising the percentage of students of color at Hillcrest. But most of the time, that’s all it means to her: bodies of color equal numbers. She says it herself, “If no one ever fixated on [race], nothing would ever change.” That’s her exact approach. Sherri cares more about the school seeming successful, diversity from numbers, than actually being successful. In fact, she has no idea how well the students of color are fitting in.
Bill, on the other hand, seems to be of sounder mind—explaining to Charlie that his loss for the position for editor-in-chief of Hillcrest’s paper to a female of color is because of her credentials in writing or leadership, and not solely due to her race. That’s only in the beginning though, as Bill’s whiteness seems to reveal complications as the story progresses.
It’s really Charlie, though, who brings out the truth within himself and his parents. Upset by the fact that he gets deferred from Yale while his biracial friend gets accepted, Charlie blames the matter on color. For a good chunk of the show, the audience watches as Charlie blabs about working so hard and not earning a “seat at the table.” Though his privilege is quite astonishing and his words seem inappropriate, what Charlie believes isn't anything radical. It actually represents a common viewpoint regarding affirmative action and diversity today.
To my surprise, Charlie undergoes a change following some wise words from his mother. He shares with his parents his plans to recognize his white privilege and power by offering up his seat at the table. He decides to go to community college, withdrawing all his university applications and abandoning the life his parents had dreamt for him. His parents freak. It’s at this point that Bill actually says to Charlie that his time will be better spent banging girls at some rich college and feeding off his privilege than attending community college while serving pizza to afford living in a moldy apartment. (This is Bill’s leaking that I was talking about.) He’s quite the father, that Bill. But Charlie still insists on going to community college, despite what his father has to say. This parallels Sherri, who in her own panic, fanatically calls colleges to insist they reconsider her son’s applications—despite Charlie’s will.
In the end, Charlie follows his parents’ advice.
Admissions explores the hypocrisy of the liberal middle and upper classes through an examination of its whiteness. Though the characters hold mostly flawed and hurtful ideologies, they do so with the purpose of highlighting such in our society. It is these very ideologies that reflect the attitudes of so many white liberals in our modern society. To top it off, the coveted performance helps in communicating the complications of the college admissions process. Annie Lareau, the artistic director, mentions in the program that there are “no easy answers to the issues raised here.” The piece does a fine job laying all these issues on the table—a vital first step in the search for answers.
Admissions ran at Seattle Public Theater January 30-February 23, 2020. For event information see here.