The struggle for diversity is the stuff that dramas are made of — and has been long before “inclusion rider” was on everyone’s lips. So Joshua Harmon (“Significant Other,” “Bad Jews”) deserves credit for hitting the red-hot issue head-on in his new Off-Broadway play “Admissions.”
Too bad this would-be button-pusher about white privilege, white power and white anxiety is too tightly — conveniently, actually — constructed for its own good. The Lincoln Center production directed by Daniel Aukin strangles itself before your eyes.
The action revolves around Sherri Rosen-Mason (Jessica Hecht), head of admissions at Hillcrest, a posh New Hampshire boarding school. Sherri has toiled overtime for 15 years to diversify the student body. Ask her beleaguered staff, including old-timer Roberta (Ann McDonough), who is schooled mercilessly in optics by her boss.
But for Sherri, it’s personal. Hillcrest is a family affair. Her even-keeled husband Bill Mason (Andrew Garman) is the headmaster. Their highly verbal and mercurial son Charlie Luther (Ben Edelman), who shares a middle name with the civil rights leader, is a senior with an all-or-nothing dream — attending Yale.
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But Charlie’s dream is deferred. He’s wait-listed while his BFF Perry, whose dad is black and mom, Ginnie (Sally Murphy, potent and poignant), is white, gets in. Two guesses where this is going.
Sherri, who’s unconditionally dedicated her life to diversity, or so she’s allowed herself to believe, sees red. So does Charlie, whose longwinded rant rivals one by the whiny hero of “Significant Other.” So does Bill when he recognizes his son’s true colors. So does Ginnie, when she learns what her friends really think about Perry’s acceptance.
One of the more provocative dramatic moves is that Perry and his dad are never seen. Otherwise, the play’s dramatics are stacked to underscore themes, not approximate reality. It makes for some laughs, but little impact.
Through it all, Hecht is fully on her game. Her characterization makes Sherri smart, demanding, prickly, sympathetic, all too human — with the requisite shades of gray. “Admissions,” meanwhile, is wearyingly monotonous.
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Through April 29 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 W. 65th St.
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