“I’m working harder than I ever have,” says Ben Edelman, currently making his onstage New York debut (having been an understudy in last year’s Significant Other) in another one of Joshua Harmon’s works: Admissions.
Much like Harmon’s widely lauded Bad Jews, the new play Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater rams head on into issues of diversity in education and race. Sherri Rosen-Mason is the Dean of Admissions at a prestigious New England prep school where her husband Bill is headmaster and her son, Charlie (Edelman), is a senior. She’s dedicated her life’s work to increasing the racial and ethnic diversity at the institution, but when Charlie is deferred early admission to Yale in favor of his biracial classmate—and best friend—the overstressed newspaper-editor-basketball-playing-straight-A-student snaps and his parents deal with the fallout. It’s a play “bubbling with volatile emotion and ideas” that has shocked some audiences into silence while raising hell in others. Opinions are so strong, the actors know with whom the crowd is siding each night.
In Charlie, Harmon writes “equal parts rage and cynicism and humor and sweetness,” says Edelman, but it’s Edelman’s masterful performance—including a three-page rant confronting the very concept of race from the blistering rage of a liberally raised teenage white boy—that scorches. His breakout moment will leave you thinking about the play long after the lights go out.
Name: Ben Edelman
What you’ll know him from now: Admissions at LCT’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre Off-Broadway
His character: Charlie Luther Mason
Where did he come from?: A Carnegie Mellon grad, Edelman understudied the lead in Broadway’s Significant Other and has had bit parts on TV’s Instinct, BrainDead, and The Good Wife.
Breakout moment: A tirade about what it means to make room at the table as a white teenage Jewish boy and the changing rules of race, gender, and affirmative action.
What his playwright has to say about it: “I get energized working with talented people,” says Harmon. “It makes me want to up my game, to try and give them something that pushes me to my limits, and in turn, pushes them to their limits. There was always a big monologue for Charlie in that first part of the play, but once we cast Ben in the role, I felt free to push myself to go as far as I could, knowing a great actor was there on the other side, with limitless potential and talent. There are a lot of rather large ideas [in it], but they're all coming out of the mouth of a teenager, albeit a precocious one. He had to balance the expression of those ideas without ever losing the thing that makes Charlie 17, and watching Ben fight his way to that point was really exciting.”
What separates this experience from others for the actor: "Admissions has been unlike any other experience theatrical or otherwise,” says Edelman “What an honor, seriously. It’s a play that touches nerves. Hard. To stage characters floating and crashing some brilliant and some terribly ugly ideas about themselves and how they see the world… it’s quite vulnerable. Admissions is more than a dream come true; not only are your dreams possible, they’re much better in real life than in your head."