Valerie Perri and Griffin Carpenter play a mother and son in “Admissions,” Joshua Harmon’s powerful drama that explores and exposes the hypocrisies and contradictions that result from racial preferences and quotas in American colleges and universities. Steve Underwood

Season-openers continue to dominate southern Maine’s performing arts calendar this week. Tops in my opinion is Good Theater’s stunning, riveting Maine premiere of “Admissions,” Joshua Harmon’s play that highlights the hypocrisies and contradictions involved in the racial preferences used to admit students at elite colleges. 

The Portland Symphony Orchestra opens its 2019-2020 Pops! season this weekend with two performances of a program titled “Revolution,” which is based on the music of the Beatles. 

‘Admissions’

Ethnic quotas and racial preferences are the subjects, and white liberal guilt-tripping provides the emotional horsepower in “Admissions,” a play by Joshua Harmon that opened Good Theater’s 2019-2020 season this past weekend in Portland. 

At issue are the race-based admissions practices favored by elite colleges such as Harvard, which holds Asians to far higher academic standards than other applicants — a policy that received a back-handed approval by a federal judge in Boston last week. 

A subsidiary topic in “Admissions” is also drawn from today’s news headlines: Parents who pull strings and engage in shady dealings to ensure that their sons and daughters get into top colleges. Television actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are the poster cases here. 

“Admissions” is set at an elite private academy in New Hampshire. The two principal characters are Sherri (Valerie Perri), who is the admissions officer and her son Charlie (Griffin Carpenter), a senior at the school. Sherri is actively pursuing a goal of 20 percent “people of color” at the academy, a numerical target that is repeatedly emphasized by her interactions with the play’s other three characters: her assistant (Amy Roche), her best friend (Laura Houck) and her husband (James Noel Hoban), who is also the school’s headmaster. All the on-stage characters are white, but there are two non-whites, both discussed often but never seen. 

Charlie and his best friend, an unseen mixed-race student, the son of Sherri’s friend and her black husband, are both superior academic achievers who have applied for early admission to Yale University. When Charlie’s friend is admitted and he himself is wait-listed, the verbal fireworks begin. 

The audience soon learns that Charlie’s frustration is amplified by another personal setback. At the urging of a powerful alumna, a girl at the school has been named editor of the school’s newspaper, besting Charlie’s bid. The audience also learns that Charlie’s academic achievements and writing abilities are somewhat superior to both his best friend and his rival at the paper. 

The push-pull relationship between Charlie and Sherri is memorable and riveting, with powerful performances delivered by Carpenter, an up-and-coming actor from Cape Elizabeth, and Perri, an experienced Broadway actress. Hoban also gives a strong, convincing performance in his triple role of headmaster, husband and father; the yawning gap between his character’s public professions and private opinions, revealed via interactions with others, provide much this play’s considerable dramatic firepower. 

Director Brian P. Allen has been telling people for months that “Admissions” will be a must-see. Now having seen it, I thoroughly concur. 

Good Theater presents “Admissions” through October 27 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) in Portland, with 7 p.m. performances Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Call 835-0895. 

Portland Symphony Orchestra 

Fifty years ago last month, the Beatles released “Abbey Road,” their next-to-last album (and the last released prior to the band’s breakup). This landmark of popular music will be celebrated this weekend with the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s first Pops! program of the 2019-2020 season. 

The program is titled “Revolution: Music of the Beatles,” with a second subtitle of “A Symphonic Experience.” It is a touring production, created by Schirmer Theatrical/Greenberg Artists co-production with arrangements for symphony orchestras by Jeff Tyzik. 

An ensemble of six rock musicians will be headed by lead vocalist Colin Smith, while guest conductor William Waldrop will lead the PSO musicians.  

Glancing over the PSO’s calendar, I notice that most of the Pops! concerts will be conducted by guests, rather than maestro Eckart Preu.) 

Revolution” principally draws on the eight albums released between 1965 and 1970, the year the Beatles broke up. 

Twenty-five songs will be performed, including “Ticket to Ride,” “Penny Lane,” “Lady Madonna,” “Here Comes the Sun,” Hey Jude” and “Let It Be.” 

Curiously, the only pre-1965 song on the program is the concluding number, “Twist and Shout” — and the only one not written by the Beatles. 

The Portland Symphony Orchestra presents “Revolution: Music of the Beatles” for two performances at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 14. Call PortTIX at 842-0800. 

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