The words “Admit One” are usually found on a ticket stub, but banish all thoughts of a backstage comedy when taking in NJ Rep's latest offering by Wendy Yondorf. Instead, the play comically questions to what lengths a responsible parent will go to get their child into a good school.
Set in a hotel suite at New York's Waldorf Astoria, the two-hander pits tightly wound admission officer Mary Sue (Catherine LaFrere) against fastidious Howard (Ames Adamson), a wealthy dad looking to do whatever it takes to get his son into prestigious Giddings University. Giddings is a Yondorf creation, a fictional ivy league school that only admits the best-of-the-best, with vigilant Mary Sue guardian of just who makes the cut and who doesn't. Desperate Howard will do whatever he must to assure his wayward son a spot, including asking Mary Sue to bend (ok, break) the rules.
Under the capable direction of Karen Carpenter (whose “Steel Magnolias” warmed hearts at Paper Mill Playhouse in 2008), the play announces its comic intentions from the very start when nervous Mary Sue scopes out the site of her meeting with Howard, a Giddings grad and donor. Carpenter infuses the action with broad visual humor and rapid-fire pacing that keeps the audience laughing even when Yondorf's verbal wit sometimes sags.
The playwright's wry observations about the mis-use of language are amusing enough, especially in the mouth of LaFrere's manic Mary Sue, as are her disparaging digs at popular schools (“New Jersey kids are Princeton's problem!”). Speaking of the Garden State, for this Jersey boy there were one too many Jersey jokes, including a groan-inducing reference to 'Bridgegate.'
LaFrere's Mary Sue earns plenty of laughs from her severe case of OCD. Her expressive features and sharp comic timing are reminiscent of a young Carol Burnett, exhaustively mining each moment for maximum humor. Adamson's Howard superbly bridges the gap between Carpenter's broad staging and Yondorf's verbal wit. With his natty pinstripe suit and neatly trimmed beard, Adamson is the very picture of a Donald Trump-like powerhouse.
Despite the sometimes silly physical comedy (including an unraveled roll of toilet paper), Adamson keeps his character grounded and believable even during an unexpected plot twist near the end of the intermission-less 95 minute play.
Technically, the show is flawlessly designed, starting with Jessica Parks' luxuriously appointed hotel room. Patricia E. Doherty's costumes are suitably tailored and Jim Nagle's lighting is similarly flawless. Even Merek Royce Press's sound design proved impressive, with comically timed cell phone rings, en-suite muzak, and champagne corks popping.
“Admit One” more than capably upholds NJ Rep's rich 17 year history of providing new plays with first rate productions.
Reviewed by Michael Mooney January 24, 2014
Performances are Thursdays, Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 2:00 pm.
Tickets are $40; Discounts are available for seniors, students, and groups of 10 or more. NJ Rep is a year-round, professional, non-profit theater located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch only minutes from the Jersey Shore. Free on-site parking is available and there is easy access from NJ Transit (North Jersey Coast Line) and Academy Buses.
Contact the NJ Rep Box Office at 732-229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org to reserve your seats online.