Leaving the theater one night after a performance of Admissions, Andrew Garman overheard two middle-aged couples discussing the play. According to Garman, who in the drama portrays Bill Mason, the head of a New England prep school, “the couples were clearly friends, but they’d gotten into an argument about what they’d just seen. One of the four said to another, ‘I can’t talk to you anymore,’ because their views were so different. They came together as friends to see a play, but they left divided in argument.”
Garman, who grew up in non-urban Pennsylvania but emigrated to Chicago and then to New York, where he studied acting at Columbia, said that position-taking is even more palpable during performances.
“From the very beginning of the run, there seemed to be sides that were drawn. When Ben – Mason’s 17-year-old son, Charlie, played by Ben Edelman – “goes into his tirade, which generally speaking is an expression of white privilege, you have part of the audience that laughs uproariously. Because they can identify not only with the humor but with the experience. Then you have people who are affected by those who are laughing, and those people who are very quiet. There becomes this palpable political battle. Sometimes, one faction overrides the other.”
Garman thinks of the play as “infiltration of white privilege and an indictment of it as well. The audience hears a white family discussing issues in the privacy of their home, where liberal parents say things they might not say on the outside.”
Garman thinks that his character serves as the play’s “voice of reason,” adding: “He needs to remind Charlie and maybe the audience that the agenda they have of diversifying the school and diversity in general is about making the world a better place. And that people, including Charlie, need to step back from their own immediate, personal concerns if we are to advance society as a whole.”
Garman is no stranger to provocative plays. In 2015, he appeared in Lucas Hnath’s The Christians, off-Broadway, as the pastor of an evangelical megachurch. “The pastor announces to his flock that it would no longer be church policy to believe in hell. This touches off a passionate debate with the associate pastor. Both public and personal matters were touched upon.”
The public and the personal collide also in Admissions. “After Charlie’s tirade,” Garman said, “he is sent upstairs and Bill and his wife” – Sherri, played by Jessica Hecht – “discuss what just happened.” Garman added: “One of the things the play does so well is show how politics can be eclipsed by the need to have a healthy marriage and to support your child. That dynamic is expressed extremely well.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.