National Tour of The Graduate
Also see Richard's review of Love & Taxes
The first national tour of The Graduate with Jerry Hall as Mrs. Robinson is now playing as part of the 2002-2003 Best of Broadway series at the Curran Theatre. This is my third time in seeing the rite of passage of Benjamin and the famous seduction of the young man by Mrs. Robinson. My first viewing was at the Gielgud Theatre in London in 2000 with a follow-up at the Plymouth Theatre in New York during the spring of 2002. Both starred Kathleen Turner as the Tallulah voiced Mrs. Robinson. In both instances, Ms. Turner had a commanding presence on the stage with that sandpapery contralto voice.
Jerry Hall, the ex-Mrs. Mick Jagger, took over the role from Ms. Turner in London and she played to full houses for six months. It is amazing to think of the differences in taste between the London and New York critics. The London critics went wild over the play while the New York critics lambasted the drama. The British go crazy over this type of drama while a Neil Simon play will lay an egg in the West End. The Graduate had a respectable run in New York due to advance sales and the presence of a name cast including Jason Biggs and Alicia Silverstone.
Some classic movies should never transfer to the stage. These are two different mediums and to my way of thinking it doesn't always work. Good examples are mostly musicals, like Gone with the Wind, Sweet Smell of Success or Meet Me in St Louis. Straight plays rarely come from movie classics since it is almost impossible to re-create the mood and atmosphere of the film. A good example is the current The Graduate.
Terry Johnson has adapted this drama from the novel by Charles Webb and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. It seems most of the screenplay is intact in the current production, right down to famous lines like “I think you are trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson” or when Benjamin is given that infamous single word of advice about plastics. However, most of the dialogue is thin and stilted. There are little theatrical touches, such as the opening speech of Benjamin when talking to his father who wants him to come downstairs to meet his guests. “Those people down there are grotesque! ... you are grotesque, I’m grotesque and we’re all grotesque.”
The Graduate is mediocre theater at best. Many of the scenes are cumbersome and tedious with no spark from the original screenplay. The quick scene changes remind me of an MTV type film with scenes moving fast and furious. A set of two tiered white louvered panels is used with some clever scenic effects. The stage is too large and wide in some of the scenes and it would have been better if some of the space could have been covered up for close ups. My favorite set scene is Mrs. Robinson’s apartment with the brightly colored vases on shelves reaching all the way to the top of the stage. This kept my interest during the last two scenes of the first act.
Jerry Hall is no great actress and she does not have the charisma of Kathleen Turner. She has great legs and she brings to the role the deportment and poise of a top class model. Even though she played the role for six months in London, she is still somewhat stiff and inexpressive. The mother-daughter drunk scene near the end of the first act is one of the least funny scenes I have seen in long time. Ms. Hall's acting improves in the last scenes when she shows some spark in her performance.
Rider Strong plays Benjamin like a television actor in a sitcom (he was in ABC’s Boy Meets World for seven seasons). His speech is rapid and he plays the role like an idle brat who just does not want to join the human rat race of the ’60s. Rider is unable to suggest Benjamin's tormented inner life.
Devon Sorvari, who plays the young Elaine Robinson, adds a certain amount of intelligence to the ditsy coed from Berkeley. She is more garrulous then prior actresses who have played the part.
William Hill and Kate Skinner as Benjamin's parents are more like caricatures than real people. Mr. Hill tends to go over the top in certain scenes but it does show what the son is rebelling against. Ms. Skinner, who played the role on Broadway, is very good with what little she has to do in the production. Dennis Parlato as Mr. Robinson is comically meaningless in his scenes. The ending itself, which goes past the film's ending, is childish but probably is supposed to appeal to the modern audiences of today. At least it’s a good advertisement for Cheerios.
The Graduate is mildly diverting and sometimes funny, but it is a dated variation on a 1960s theme of a person's need to rebel against an assertive father and to find one's true self. The production plays at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco through September 7. Tickets are available at the Curran Theatre Box Office, the Orpheum Theatre Box Office at 1192 Market at 8th, thru Ticketmaster 415-512-7770, at all Ticketmaster centers and through tickemaster.com For groups of 20 or more, call Group Sales 415-551-2020.
Future Best of Broadway productions are 42nd Street at the Golden Gate Theatre starting September 2nd and Cats at the Orpheum Theatre starting December 16.