Richard Hoehler and Kathryn Kates
in Inadmissible
(© Jim Baldassare)
Richard Hoehler and Kathryn Kates
in Inadmissible
(© Jim Baldassare)
If you think Republican primaries are a blood sport, try spending a day in your average university theater department. Playwright DB Gilles, who has spent a fair few behind ivy-covered walls as a university instructor, lets loose with Inadmissible, at the Canal Park Playhouse, a one-act satire on the college admissions process that unfolds like a low-key Agatha Christie thriller under Sherri Eden Barber's direction.

Elaine (the extremely delightful Kathryn Kates), a no-nonsense department chair, is steering two other professors through the torturous task of selecting graduate students for the next academic year. Dressed for the kill in designer Casey Malone's subtle but smartly appointed costumes, Kates' Elaine carries herself with the air of a woman assured enough by her influence that she doesn't need to play the role of the leader. She just is one. Trifle with her at your peril.

On the opposite end of the power spectrum is the struggling adjunct, Joanna (a passionate Charise Greene) who, when not serving coffee to the others, desperately seeks a balance between her idealism and her need for tenure track.

In between, is Joanna's mentor, Martin (Richard Hoehler), a deeply embittered older colleague whose abiding desire is to win the department chairmanship, which he feels should have been his long ago. Hoehler can somewhat overdo the cold, cynical side of Martin -- although he does need to compensate for the overly simple way in which Gilles has written him and undeniably brings electricity to his scenes.

The primary problem with the play is that, for all its sly imitation of the mystery thriller form, there are few revelations that can't be spotted a long way off. And when they do announce themselves, they tend to do so with heavy, plodding footsteps. Moreover, Inadmissible has none of the underground charges that someone like David Mamet would detonate in your brain long after the play is over.

Still, this writer knows something about how ruthless university professors can be behind each other's backs. The extent to which talent is almost wholly discounted in the graduate admissions process is exaggerated for comic effect, although how much so could be subject to intense debate in rancorous academic circles.