Tuesday, April 28, 2009
review of *The Graduate*
at Interplayers through May 9
With cigarette smoldering and hand on hip, she saunters into a younger man’s bedroom — her high heels, her legs, her hips and all the rest of her — moving like a cat, making appraisals. Conquering a college kid would be less boring than the rest of her alcohol-soaked life. As Mrs. Robinson, Karen Kalensky is sultry and languorous, and it isn’t a pose: Benjamin’s her trophy, and the trophy’s bagged.
He’s a recent college grad who knows that he doesn’t want what his parents want but isn’t quite sure what that means. As Benjamin, the blank affect of Carter J. Davis reveals nothing, though his eyes are sneering. When his parents’ friends enter a room, he dutifully stands at attention (out of habit, out of boredom). When Mrs. Robinson saunters into a room, however, his stiffness has other connotations.
In Terry Johnson’s stage adaptation of *The Graduate* (at Interplayers through May 9), Kalensky and Davis create tension and comic release: First she’s seducing him, then it’s the other way around, and finally director Maria Caprile tees up a sequence of crash cuts, with the two lovers flailing among the sheets in theatrical snapshots much sexier than any kind of explicitness would be.
In the early going, when Johnson's script hews closest to the film, the matron-and-college-boy tryst evokes nervous laughter. By the second act, however, when Johnson begins trying to devise new scenes and explain everyone's motives, the script becomes excessively talky. And even an enjoyable first act overstays its welcome.
Caprile creates '60s fun with backlit silhouettes behind sliding doors, but Johnson has betrayed her by demanding too many scene changes. It feels like being at a furniture movers' convention, and it bloats the show into two and a half hours.
There’s a hint in the strip-club scene that Mrs. Robinson’s daughter —Benjamin’s newfound girlfriend — can rise above tawdriness and inspire him to regain a sense of purpose. But when Elaine (Emily Cleveland) tries to cheer him up, Benjamin mutters that his “love of life was unrequited." He’s jaded and doesn’t know why; Cleveland conveys how she’s disappointed in herself too. Perhaps the two of them will actually rouse themselves into a sense of purpose. Even more encouragingly, Cleveland and Kalensky get around to some truth-telling in a mother-daughter drinking scene. But then Johnson spends his second act trying to explain what the movie, properly, left unspoken.
The supporting cast, nevertheless, is strong. As Benjamin's mother, Tamara Schupman flips from chirpy to confused in an instant. As Mrs. Robinson's back-slapping but betrayed husband, John Oswald ranges from creepy (delivering the famous "plastics" line) to affecting (confronting Benjamin about the adultery). And Kalensky and Davis are masterful together.
But there was more of a “What do we do next?” mood in the final seconds of the 1967 movie than there is in Johnson’s entire last scene, with the newlyweds straining to be festive in a cheap motel room. If only they’d conform to their parents’ wishes, it’d all be much easier. But sometimes aimlessness needs to be played out more than talked out.
In taking a beloved movie out of the visual realm and theatricalizing it, Johnson only makes *The Graduate* more verbose.
Terry Johnson’s stage adaptation of *The Graduate,* directed by Maria Caprile, continues through May 9 at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St., on Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, and Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm. Tickets: $10-$21. Visit www.interplayers.com or call 455-PLAY.
[ photo by Austin Odell -- left to right, Angie Dierdorff, Emily Cleveland, David McCallum, Dave Rideout, Dan Anderson and Carter J. Davis in *The Graduate,* Spokane Interplayers Ensemble, April-May 2009 ]