Review: A Punchy Look at College Admissions

“I got in!” These are three words all parents want to hear from their college-bound teens. But how far are some hovering moms and dads willing to go to reach that blissful moment? Such is the essential question of playwright Wendy Yondorf’s punchy, two-person comedy “Admit One,” now in its premiere run at the New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch.

After 18 years of homework, hormones and hysteria, college admittance seems like the final thrust toward adulthood for many kids. Yet, with steep competition the drive to “get in” results in some parents getting creative with the application process. Such helicopter parents become well acquainted with the admissions officer type: 30s, tightly wound, well-educated and presumably over-qualified for the job. Returning NJ Repertory actress Catherine LaFrere embodies this stereotype as a convincing Mary Sue. She proves herself an able combatant with upper-class parent Howard Everett (Ames Adamson).

The two are connected through their alma mater, the fictional Giddings University. The distressed Howard is desperate to ensure his spoiled son Dirk’s enrollment in the elite school. To save his son’s skin after a scandal with a female fellow student, Howard devises a plan to bribe the admissions office. His plan seems foolproof until he runs up against the by-the-book Mary Sue, and hilarity ensues.

The show is so full of rapid twists and turns that you could easily miss a key plot point. Yet the pace suits Yondorf’s humorous observations on topics from sex to the hypocrisy of the upper class. “The rich are always crucified,” whines Howard, spreading his arms across the fireplace of the five-star hotel room where the play is set.

With no intermission, “Admit One” is a 90-minute dash to the finish line, and the dynamic between Howard and Mary Sue keeps the audience engrossed throughout. Despite the pace, Yondorf’s characters manage to create a certain intimacy with the audience. The dialogue is custom-tailored for New Jersey and remarkably current, even mentioning Bridgegate. For Mary Sue, New Jersey students are suburban, talented, normal, nice — and “Princeton’s problem.”

The play exposes the absurdity of the college admissions process and the near impossibility of admittance, even for the most qualified students. At one point, Mary Sue describes how one student was accepted only after losing a leg. Mary Sue’s bookishness and Howard’s haughtiness are the crumbling facades of people who, much like high school students, are far from perfect and simply desire acceptance.

“Admit One” continues through February 16 with performances Thursday through Sunday. Tickets, show times and additional information can be found at www.njrep.org or by calling 732-229-3166.

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