The Graduate is considered to be one of the most iconic movies of the 1960s. Dustin Hoffman’s off-beat quirks and Ann Bancroft’s cool seductive charm made for incredible chemistry, not to mention the soundtrack by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel was absolutely brilliant. In the 2000s, the play by the same name made its way to London’s west end as well as the Broadway stage, this time with Kathleen Turner and Jason Biggs in the lead roles. Although things are slightly different in the stage version, the story of a young man who is fresh out of college and his involvement with an older woman and how this effects and changes his life remains the same. This weekend, Actors Choice Theater, in partnership with Wayward Actors Company, premiered their rendition of the comedy in the MeX Theater.
Directed by Mike Seely, whose directing resume is already impressive with the likes of Equus and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, this production pays homage to the film but also adds some original flair. What Seely and his company have done with their show is create a world in which those classic songs by Simon and Garfunkel enhance each emotion and situation Benjamin encounters, whether with Mrs. Robinson, with her daughter Elaine, or with his angst regarding his own meanderings in his post undergraduate haze. Musicians appear behind a screen in silhouette throughout the scene changes. Bryce Blair, Jeff Ketterman, Randy Yeager and Mr. Seely himself create the band for this production. Indeed, these live musical interludes were a treat and I couldn’t help but sing along every time.
Dennis Grinar plays Benjamin Braddock complete with a stammering nervous energy that matures through the production. In past productions, Mr. Grinar has played parts of more clowning nature involving outrageous behaviors. This role was a nice change of pace, allowing him to show his range while still putting his strong comedic timing to good use. As for Jennifer Shank as the seductress Mrs. Robinson, Shank is dominant and forceful while maintaining reserve. As there are many scenes involving sexual intercourse, Ms. Shank displays complete and total confidence while bearing all not only to Benjamin but to the small audience within the MeX. Scenes between Grinar and Shank contained chemistry that was intimate without being familiar, while also holding on to an energy that fueled the sexual exploration between the two characters.
Magdalen Hartman plays Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine, who catches Benjamin’s affections. Ms. Hartman gives the sweetest portrayal of the production especially in her drunken interactions with her mother and when she snacks on cheerios with Benjamin. Phil Lynch plays Benjamin’s father with just enough silliness and naïve authority to resemble fathers everywhere. R. Edward Dawson plays Mr. Robinson. Whether he’s advising in investing in plastics, ironically giving guidance on sewing wild oats or threating his life, scenes between Grinar and Dawson were by far the strongest in the show. These two actors held onto the dialogue’s clever wit and, when paired against each other, their timing made these scenes very entertaining.
One final note for the company was a concern about authenticity. I would hate to pin The Graduate downas a period piece exactly; nevertheless, the particulars of the story seem rooted to the1960s, a time with very recognizable trends and fashions. These styles were somewhat lost throughout this production. Costume choices and set pieces were a bit too modern, giving a mixed aesthetic.
Anyone who fell in love with The Graduatewill appreciate this production. Complete with hits from the movie’s soundtrack and expert comedic actors, Actors Choice has put together a production worth watching.
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner