“Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson…”
For those old enough to remember, The Graduate was one of the key movie experiences of the the 1960s, bolstered by some enduring Simon and Garfunkel songs on the soundtrack.
In the story of Benjamin Braddock – a 21-year-old college graduate returning to his parents’ home in Pasadena who finds himself at odds with the present and equally unwilling to face the future – many found a metaphor for a growing malaise of disaffection afflicting North American society.
Now, 50 years after the original movie pushed all the right buttons for those in Benjamin’s generation, White Rock Players is presenting Terry Johnson’s 2000 stage adaptation of The Graduate (Coast Capital Playhouse, Feb. 10-25), directed by long-time club member Kate Stadel.
And the Simon and Garfunkel songs are still there, along with some other nostalgic ephemera.
Awkward Benjamin is at a crossroads. While he knows that an incipient affair with an older woman – Mrs. Robinson, wife of his father’s law partner – is definitely a wrong turn, he’s not sure what the right turn looks like.
Should he be looking for a graduate school? Should he be embracing a lifestyle and values he sees as ‘grotesque’? Should he be pursuing the Robinsons’ daughter Elaine, a move his parents and Mr. Robinson are encouraging?
The Players Club production features Thomas Gage as Benjamin, Lori Watt as Mrs. Robinson, Janine Guy as Elaine, Kerry Van Sickle and Katherine Morris as Mr. and Mrs. Braddock, and Kimball Finigan as Mr. Robinson – with supporting roles played by Paul Ferancik, Kevin Sloan, Jake Anthony, Erin Marshall and Vanessa Klein.
The play version was conceived largely as a vehicle for Kathleen Turner as Mrs. Robinson and has served the same purpose for a succession of mature actresses during commercially successful runs in London’s West End and on Broadway. Somewhat of a cause celebre due to their nude scenes, Johnson’s adaptation, based both on the movie script and Charles Webb’s original 1963 novel, has also received its share of critical barbs.
Detractors have said Johnson’s version shifts the dynamics of the piece by enlarging the importance of Mrs. Robinson character, while telescoping events to play the story more as farce.
But that’s not a problem for Stadel, who is returning to the White Rock Players Club after having previously directed pantomimes and comedies there.
“It’s definitely farce,” she agreed.
“That’s more my style anyway – I’m okay with that,” she added, noting she was drawn to directing The Graduate because she has enjoyed it as both a movie and a play.
“It’s a really great story and this script is so good.”
Another part of the appeal of The Graduate, Stadel said, is that, farcical or not, the situation of generational conflict transcends the 1960s setting of the play.
“It’s timeless,” she said.
“For example, I get so frustrated by hearing Gen-Xers talking about millennials; every generation doesn’t like the new one. The Braddocks’ frustration is that they have given Benjamin everything and he doesn’t know what to do with that – but he’s growing up in a different time.”
The biggest challenge with Benjamin, Stadel said, is trying to decide whether he’s the hero of the story or simply “a whiny brat.” People she has spoken to offer different perspectives and she can see points on both sides, she said.
“But I like the idea of that conversation. I don’t want to push an answer on the audience – I want people to talk about it.”
Casting the show was challenging because so many actors were interested in auditioning – not that she’s complaining. And while it’s still early in the rehearsal process, she said she feels confident that the players chosen have the right chemistry.
“I could have cast the show three times over – how often do you get that in community theatre? A lot of the time you’re phoning your friends, hoping that they’re free.”
She’s very happy with Gage’s take on Benjamin, she said.
“He’s such a good actor, I don’t have to tell him anything – he’s got a good handle on it,” she said, adding she feels that way about all of the cast.
“It’s so much better when you don’t have to start giving acting lessons.”
Having seen a video of Turner’s interpretation, Stadel admitted “I had that voice in my head” when auditioning Mrs. Robinson.
But Watt won the role with her own individual interpretation.
“She’s different than anyone I’ve seen. She’s really bold – there’s no pinning her down. I think that will be exciting for everybody – people will want to see what she’s going to do. You want someone like that on stage.”
Some critics have described the uncompromising and aggressive Mrs Robinson – who fights back against the evolving relationship between Benjamin and Elaine – as the ‘monster’ of the piece, but Stadel rejects that characterization.
“What we’ve discussed about the Robinsons is that they’re the only honest people in the play. So many people care about what others think of them, but they don’t care what they say, or what people think.
“I don’t think that’s Mrs. Robinson is a monster at all. I think she’s really honest. Life didn’t turn out the way she thought life would turn out.
“It’s like she says about Benjamin and Elaine – ‘they’ll get bored of each other.’ And you know what? She’s right.”
For information, tickets, call 604-536-7535 or visit www.whiterockplayers.ca