Trafalgar Studios, London ★★★★✩
WE DON’T need the Felicity Huffman scandal to know parents will drop their principles faster than trousers in a farce if it gets their kids into their preferred college. Take this supercharged US comedy, in which Alex Kingston plays Sherri, the earnest head of admissions at a New Hampshire boarding school.
Her worthwhile job is to ensure the once exclusively white establishment has a racially diverse intake of students.
To that end she gives poor, well-meaning, ‘racially blind’ Roberta (Margot Leicester) a hard time about the brochure she has produced, which only has pictures of white people.
Kingston, who you still half expect to reach for the white coat worn in ER despite her recent long-running turn playing Doctor Who’s gutsy wife, superbly conveys the smug, righteous, virtue-signalling of the modern white liberal.
That is, until it appears her super-smart son Charlie (Ben Edelman reprising the role he played in New York) may have lost his place at Yale to his black friend. When that happens, hypocrisy thickens the air of Daniel Aukin’s production and it’s as if virtuous Sherri would be up for starting a race war if it meant that her son wasn’t one of the whites who had to make room for a ‘student of colour’.
This is the kind of tricky subject for which most writers tread on eggshells. But author Joshua Harmon, whose previous barnstormer about racial identity to reach these shores was the provocatively titled Bad Jews, goes at his sensitive subject with the force of a bulldozer and the precision of a scalpel.
Kingston gets great support from Sarah Hadland as her friend Ginnie, and Andrew Woodall as Sherri’s deadpan husband and school head.
But the hyper Edelman steals the show as Charlie. His barrage of criticism fired at his well-meaning parents expose the knots into which white liberals tie themselves to correct racial injustices — as long as it doesn’t cost them anything.