In the highly engaging and entertaining Joshua Harmon drama Admissions, Ben Edelman plays Charlie Luther Mason, a senior at Hillcrest, a New Hampshire prep school. I began my interview with Edelman by asking him to compare Ben to Charlie. “I can definitely relate to his circumstances,” Edelman said. “Like him, I grew up in an intellectually argumentative household. I was the youngest of three kids and when we came home from school my parents would say: ‘What questions did you ask today?’”
Unlike Charlie, Edelman did not go to prep school, although Lower Merion, the Main Line Philadelphia high school he did attend, has high standards. (The stand-out sport is lacrosse.) Like Charlie, Edelman was fascinated from childhood with an Ivy League school. “Both my parents went to Princeton, and as a little kid I would go to all the major reunions there. It was imprinted on me that it was an amazing place.”
Though Edelman dreamed of going to Princeton, there was a problem. “I was a slacker. Like Charlie, I had a million extra-curriculars, and very good SAT scores, but I never did my homework.”
But Edelman was a creative kid: he played the piano and drums, went to an artsy summer camp, and took part in Lower Merion’s student-run drama program. He attended Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama, a program every bit as selective as Princeton. His Carnegie-Mellon high point came senior year, during a student-run festival called Playground. He and some friends co-wrote and acted in a play about Houdini. “The show was packed and really great,” Edelman said.
In Admissions, Edelman is creating another kind of magic. The young actor delivers a speech to his stage parents, played by Jessica Hecht and Andrew Garman, that, in the script, covers two-and-a-half pages, tightly spaced. I won’t give away the specifics except to say that the speech manages to cover virtually all the debates about race and exclusivity in current American life, and that Edelman’s rendition elicits show-stopping applause. “I really think that people are applauding the mastery of Josh’s writing,” Edelman said, modestly. “The speech has a virtuosic enormity. It contains a huge number of ideas but is conveyed in a cohesive argument. And, like most intellectual fireworks, it’s driven by deep emotion.”
I asked Edelman to compare Charlie’s frustration-fueled outburst to that of the high school survivors in the recent Parkland, Florida mass shooting. “That’s another case of emotion driving the eloquence. Those kids walk around every day with a lot of important things to think and feel about, and the extremity of the shooting has given them a platform to express their eloquence. It’s very moving.”
Several of Edelman’s school friends have seen Admissions during the current preview period. He said: “Some of them were white-male, liberal, and very political. They loved the show, but were totally shaken by it. Sometimes, we have to have our treasured ideas dislodged in order to begin to think.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.