Graduate with a Hard Edge.

By Alan Hustak on September 10, 2014

As Mrs. Robinson,   the predatory cougar in the Segal Centre’s coarse,  hard-edged and erratic  stage adaptation of The Graduate running  until Sept. 21, Brigitte Robinson  glows like tip of her smoldering,   ever- present cigarette. The  overall  production of  the 1967 cinema classic,  however,  has lost something in the transformation from the screen to the stage.  The play has all of the substance and none of the charm of the original.   It  gets  off to a promising start as Mrs. Robinson  seduces Benjamin Braddock, the20-year old  misfit hero  (Luke Humphrey.) within the first ten minutes.   It opens  with  Humphrey  sitting at the edge of his bed in a scuba diving suit refusing  to go downstairs to meet the guests at the graduation party his parents are throwing for him.  Mrs. Robinson stumbles into  his room , and before you can say “this conversation is getting a little strange,”  tears her clothes off and stands stark naked before him.   Unfortunately,  what follows  is  Terry Johnson’s  wonderfully unremarkable mishmash of a script  that telegraphs the best parts of the film classic, throws in a t otally uncessary contemporary spin,,  but misses much of the underlying  tension  that made  Charle’s Webb’s coming of age novel such a  hit..

the_graduate.jpgIn spite of Andrew Shaver’s determined and occasionally inspired  direction  the name of the play is The Graduate. It is above all a period piece about a  disillusioned boy-toy,   Benjamin Braddock  not about the totally dysfunctional   Mrs. Robinson .   Her backstory,   a melodramatic update added  to  reveal the desperation of a suburban housewife robs the piece of much of what  made her so mysterious a seductress in the first place.    And,  as  buff  and as handsome as Humphrey is, he  lacks the vulnerability and what a friend of mine  described  as the “bad boy quality” that would make him attractive to either Mrs. Robinson or to her daughter, Elaine. ( Georgina Beaty).   Beaty is touching in her confusion and conflicted feelings,  but one wonders why she would even consider becoming a runaway bride and eventually end  up with her mother’s stud.

Graham Cuthbertson plays s several  supporting  roles with his usual aplomb, including a scene stealing hotel desk clerk.  Seska  Lee has a turn as a brassy stripper in a sleazy bar and Marcel Jeannin and Jane Wheeler are fine  as Benjamin’s exasperated parents.   Alain Goulem  plays  Mr. Robinson, the cuckolded husband, with seething restraint for the most part,  but, curiously,  at the end of the show turns into an axe wielding monster, 

James Lavoie’s set is serviceable but bland; a subdued,  pastel  vision of  what was,  after all,  a psychedelic  time. Even the rear screen projections lack permissive abandon of the 60s.    Susan Vera’s costumes, however, are right on the money.  The original music written and performed by Justin Rutledge and Matthew Barber is frankly, monotonous.  What’s more, their wandering across the stage like folkies from some coffee house is distracting. And the slapstick denouement, which  admittedly gets  laughs  turned the wedding scene, and the drama which had been building  into open farce.  As entertainment, The Graduate gets a passing grade, but barely:   A for its acting  and  for Shaver’s ambition, B for its bravado,  C for its conversion from screen to stage,  and D for double standards when it comes to nudity. (Why, for example,  does Benjamin keep his boxers on when Mrs. Robinson bares all. ?)


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