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Photo courtesy of Jim Baldassare

A compelling cast delivers a complex, layered performance in "Inadmissible."

In the world of higher education, cutthroat competition isn't only limited to the application process. D.B. Gilles' new play, "Inadmissible," an off-off-Broadway production at the Canal Park Playhouse, presents the politics behind the university admissions process from the perspectives of professors on the admissions committee. Consistently dramatic and darkly funny, the production presents a highly entertaining glimpse into the perversity of the admissions process and the professors behind it. Charise Greene, an adjunct lecturer at the Barnard and Columbia theater department, stars as a young adjunct professor. The cast of three succeeds in portraying the realism of the play, without sacrificing the comedy. The actors time each joke perfectly and the theater's intimate space provides the perfect setting for facilitating the audience's connection with the characters. The play is ideally cast. The actors' fully-formed characters are familiar and charming, and they play off each other wonderfully. Elaine, played by Kathryn Kates, is the aging and hard-driving graduate admissions committee chair of the performing arts department at the fictional Piedmont University of San Francisco. Kates gives a strong performance, capturing and reveling in Elaine's toughness and dynamism. Kates is at once ruthlessly calculating and compelling. Martin, another tenured professor in the department, joins her on the committee. Richard Hoehler's Martin brings the bitter sarcasm of middle age to the stage. Hoehler plays up Martin's theatricality to just the right level, never quite verging on caricature, and tempers it with a keen recognition of the character's cunning and intellect. His air of self-deprecating resignation makes Martin a surprisingly sympathetic character. When one of their colleagues suddenly falls ill during the last few days of the decisions process, Elaine and Martin must quickly find a replacement for him, as the committee needs three members. After a lengthy discussion about possible candidates (one is "too pushy," another "too fat"), they settle on Joanna, played by Greene. Joanna is a young adjunct professor in the department, still bright-eyed with enthusiasm, in stark contrast to Martin's nonchalant ennui. Greene seems to bring her experience at Barnard to the role, giving a highly compelling and convincing performance, with a nuanced juxtaposition of Joanna's strength and seeming frailty. Greene reveals Joanna's combination of disillusionment and courage progressively, giving the character a convincing and delightful development through the play. Elaine and Martin reveal that this year's selection process particularly important, as they want Piedmont's 13th- or 14th-ranked department to break into the top 10. The audience quickly discovers, however, that Martin and Elaine are pushing hidden agendas. The retiring Elaine's reputation is in jeopardy after a recent drop in fund-raising, and she wants to "go out with a bang." Martin, who has been passed over for promotion, wants to impress the dean in order to secure the position after Elaine retires. Unfortunately, Joanna, who wants desperately to secure a full-time teaching job, is in a vulnerable position. Her colleagues, thinking they can easily manipulate her, try both bribery and blackmail to convince Joanna to expedite the admissions process. To make matters worse, she discovers that a particularly talented applicant is unlikely to be admitted. Joanna, torn between her career and her commitment to excellence, has to decide whether or not to support her colleagues' machinations. The play uses this situation to raise pressing questions about the impact of personal connections and diversity in admissions, and to satirize the academics whose ulterior motives get in the way of their professional responsibilities. The subject matter is highly relevant to anyone who has faced the anxious and harrowing university admissions process, and the play's treatment of its subject is both engrossing and cathartic. The play accomplishes its task elegantly and entertainingly, remaining highly satisfying from beginning to end. And the play goes out with a bang. "Inadmissible" runs until Feb. 18 at the Canal Park Playhouse. arts@columbiaspectator.com

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