In Joshua Harmon’s Admissions, Jessica Hecht plays Sherri Rosen-Mason, who strives to bring diversity to the student body at a New England prep school. The last time Hecht performed at LCT was in 2006, in Richard Greenberg’s The House in Town.
“That was a beautiful experience,” Hecht said the other day in her Newhouse dressing room. “It was the start of my relationship with Rich, who is such a superb writer. But that play feels like a lifetime ago because my two kids were little – my daughter was 6 and my son 4. Now, my daughter is at an Ivy League school and my son’s a high school senior.” She added: “In the space between Rich’s play and this play my children became people. As I say in this play, in relationship to my teenage son: ‘Eighteen years really flew by.’”
If Ivy League schools and high-school seniors pop up in both Admissions and in Hecht’s life, she doesn’t see the overlap as complete. “You aren’t playing yourself out there, yet I can’t help but be aware of the similarities.”
Hecht, who grew up in Connecticut and whose family hailed before then from The Bronx, spoke about her friends whose lives echo those in Admissions but who don’t necessarily see the play the way that she does. “They take their kids to the March on Washington. They are part of religious and spiritual and community organizations that are very equitable. Like Sherri, they are ‘social justice warriors.’ But they come to the play and say: ‘This isn’t satire, it’s an indictment of community college. And a reflection of white privilege.’ And I say, ‘What? You don’t see the play as highlighting the naiveté of white privilege?’ And they say, ‘No, we didn’t see that at all.’”
“They’ve been a reminder to me: People see things through their own lens, through whatever they think and feel.”
Hecht said that when Daniel Aukin, the director of Admissions, was developing the play with the cast that establishing an effective tone was crucial. “At first, we would intentionally highlight the names and statuses of characters in order to bring out the play’s theme of privilege. But we realized that it was important to have the characters NOT draw your attention to their own internal biases with pauses or emphases. What mattered most was the language written by our playwright.”
Hecht spoke about the audience response that Admissions has drawn. “People have been very vocal. We had a fascinating talk-back in which we asked that people not express their personal feelings about the characters because that would become too personal for us actors and not about the play as a whole. The audience agreed and the talk-back was very productive.”
Hecht went on: “As I left the theater that day, this woman said to me: ‘I’m so glad I got to hear you talk. You speak in such a sensitive way and your character was such a monster!’ I told that story to my mother and she said: ‘You should have just told the woman she was being obnoxious.’ But I didn’t. I thought: What’s your problem that you can’t see the whole context of the situations that Sherri is in?”
Which is not to say that Hecht dislikes lively response. “This play,” she explained, “has been extraordinary in its ability to provoke discussion. That’s unusual in my experience. Let me tell you something else that’s unique for me. I’ve had the good fortune to work with incredible actors, some of whom are famous.” (Last season, for example, Hecht did Arthur Miller’s The Price on Broadway, in a cast that included Danny DeVito. A few seasons further back, she received a Tony nomination for appearing in Miller’s A View from the Bridge, with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson.)
“When people stand at the curtain of those shows, I wonder: What are they cheering for? Are they cheering because they love that star, and rightly so?” But when we do Admissions, people stand for the substance of the play, for the fact that Lincoln Center Theater is doing the play, and for the fact that we are unfortunately in a situation where the play’s issues need to be talked about. As I say, I’ve never had that experience before, and I’m grateful.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.