‘The Graduate’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by August 2, 2017

‘The Graduate’ was initially a book written by Charles Webb in 1963, just after he graduated from college. He has several autobiographical references in the story. The book was then adapted for the stage by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham, and made into a film in 1967. Adjusted for inflation, the film grossed $754 million, making it the 17th highest-ever grossing film. Incidentally, the film’s poster does not feature Anne Bancroft leg. ‘The Graduate’ has been selected by the U.S. National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The Stray Cats Theatre Company is recognised by the theatrical industry as one of WA’s highest quality and most adventurous groups. In the past, they have brought to the Mandurah Performing Centre such spectaculars as ‘Mary Poppins’, ‘Wizard’, and ‘Miss Saigon’.

The Stray Cats are now presenting this beautifully scripted play. Terry Johnson adapted this version with its humorous dialogue. It is being performed at the Fishtrap Theatre within the Performing Centre, Ormsby Terrace in Mandurah. This is a two-hour production of the dark and daring play, ‘The Graduate’ is an adult show, for 16+. It can be seen at 7.30 pm on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights until 5th August. There is one matinée on Saturday at 2.00 pm.

 

Karen Francis designed the two main sets.

The first scene is Benjamin’s bedroom; it is at floor level in front of the stage. The second is a hotel room, at the rear of the 1-metre high stage. Both sets are visible throughout the show.

Benjamin’s room is typical of most young men, single bed, cluttered and messy. The hotel room is classy, with a large double bed, an oak wardrobe, and bedside tables with a telephone. Props by Georgia McGivern.

There are other minor sets such as a phone box, lift and a reception desk.

Monique Kinnest and her assistant Bronwyn White supervised the stage management. At times sizable modifications were required, so to ensure speedy changes several stage crewmembers were co-opted from the cast. The show flowed very well.

The professional lighting and sound design was by Karen Francis, with Rhiannon Francis supplying the sound effects. The operation was by the talented tech staff of the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre and Jon Lambert.

 

     Benjamin Braddock (Tate Bennett) is a brilliant, but confused twenty-one year old man, who after 4 years at college has graduated and returned home to Pasadena. His loving but ineffectual mother (Tracy Bolton) and father (Colin Howe) are holding a congratulations party for him. Upstairs, shy Benjamin is trying on his new scuba outfit, his parents’ graduation gift; he sits on his bed visibly uncomfortable at the thought of facing all of his parents’ insincere friends, downstairs, waiting to wish to congratulate him. They are itching to grill him with numerous questions about his ambitions, and future plans.

     As Benjamin sits bored and tense in his room, the alcoholic, despondent wife of his father’s law partner, the gushing Mr Robinson (Christian Gerish at his best), joins him. This is the sexually frustrated and alluring Mrs. Robinson (Diana Oliver), who has ‘a migraine’ and wishes to lie down on the bed to recover.

     Feeling neglected, Mrs Robinson intimidates Benjamin and is soon pressuring him to stay and have a drink. The young man just wants to be alone and relax, he is even avoiding his best friend Carl (Alex White). Seconds later the cougar comes back – naked. In truth, it is Mrs Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Georgia McGivern) that Benjamin has always fancied, but suggestion of this competition causes Mrs Robinson’s ire.

     Benjamin takes Elaine out on a date – to a strip club. The waitress (Eliza Clubley) brings a couple of beers, as the stripper (Caitlin Wainwright) disrobes inches from Elaine’s face. Elaine is horrified and demands to be taken home.

   Before long, Benjamin has organised a secret meeting for some wild passion at the seedy Taft hotel, petrified in case the room clerk (Oliver Clare) on the reception desk sees through his ‘Mr Gladstone’ pseudonym. (In the movie, the receptionist was played by the film’s scriptwriter).

     Because of Benjamin’s strange behaviour, his parents take him to see an unusual psychiatrist (Bronwyn White).

   Elaine finds a new love and Mr Robinson is only too happy to contact the vicar (Angus Young) and arrange a massive marriage – miles from Ben, in Santa Barbara.

   Benjamin’s world is falling apart ….

Acting extras included Robbie Fieldwick, Ryan White and Aidan Thomas.

 

The whole story is about seduction of a naïve virgin by a frustrated and lonely cougar. Tate Bennett who played Benjamin was magnificent as the petrified and confused sex object, staggering through an experience that he did not understand or appreciate. He showed all of the inner sufferings of this poor unfortunate. Diana Oliver as Mrs Robinson was amazing as the older woman desperate for love and affection, initially fawning all over Benjamin but next minute letting loose with her acerbic tongue. With Director Karen Francis’ guidance, both actors under played their parts perfectly. Lack of this constraint could have turned the whole play into a farce; instead, you could clearly feel the mixed emotions.

Despite the nudity, the play was not meant to be risqué, but with this delicate presentation, the older members of the audience will sit and grin as they see the discomfort of their own first encounters being re-enacted.

Tremendous, powerful acting by the four leads, Benjamin, Mr and Mrs Robinson and poor Elaine. Tate Bennett is certainly a name to look for in the future.

This fantastic play is rarely presented on the stage, and with so many of the audience knowing the film so well, my worry was that it could be a disappointment. However, this version of the story is not quite the same, and these stage actors were superb.

Even devotees of the film will love this play.