The Graduate, Charles Webb’s novel about feeling confused upon finishing college, taps into fairly universal feelings, even if the 1967 film version became an iconic portrayal of the then-current “youth culture.” So, it’s no surprise that the L. A. Theatre Works production packed ‘em in for a one-night run on February 22 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts. Despite a few cultural shifts in the fifty years since the novel first appeared, The Graduate proved to be a potent memory jog for older adults and a humorous object lesson for those exposed to the story for the first time.
Benjamin Braddock (Brian Tichnell) has graduated from college in the East and has returned to California to begin an uncertain independent life. He’s moved back in with his parents (Tom Virtue and Diane Adair), and he doesn’t seem to enjoy the attention they insist on showering on him. Enter Mrs. Robinson (Heidi Dippold), wife to his father’s best friend (Matthew Arkin) and self-professed alcoholic. Turns out she enjoys seducing Benjamin, who might or might not be a virgin.
But, Benjamin complicates matters by falling for Elaine (Jill Renner), the Robinson’s daughter. Elaine, on the other hand, isn’t sure she wants to fall for Benjamin, especially once she finds out he’s been having an affair with her mother. Even so, Elaine is charmed by Benjamin’s passion and even to some degree by his lack of direction, as a rival suitor, who is aiming to be a doctor, has pronounced that Elaine and he would “make a great team.”
As you might imagine, love, not lust, wins out in the end, making The Graduate, in retrospective, a fairly conventional tale of young adults trying to break away from parental control.
The principal differences between 1960s culture and that of today’s youth are (1) Benjamin (and maybe also Elaine) are less likely to be virgins, and (2) both of them would probably not have rushed to get married in their early twenties, opting to live together instead. These differences are easily overlooked, however, if the cast is appealing.
And, the L. A. Theatre Works cast is certainly that. Mr. Tichnell may be a bit more of a leading man than was the 30-but-playing-21 Dustin Hoffman in the film, but his boyish grin endears him both to Ms. Renner’s sharply-observed Elaine, as well as to the audience. Ms. Dippold manages to bring similar qualities to her performance that Anne Bancroft brought to the film version of Mrs. Robinson. Mr. Virtue and Mr. Arkin have less dimension in their overworked-and-exasperated fathers, but they play these types with style. Ms. Adair gets to play a stripper as well as Benjamin’s mom. Mr. Virtue and she also have fun producing sound effects, along with Darren Richardson, who performs all of the smaller roles. [php snippet=1]Did I tell you that L. A. Theatre Works essentially does radio plays? When they go out on tour, as they currently are with this production, they spice up the performances a bit with costumes and blocking (Brian Kite directed, efficiently), but basically the cast stands behind microphones and creates the scenes with their voices, and the aforementioned sound effects. The company is regularly heard on public radio, and performances often feature “name” actors, particularly those who reside in Los Angeles and often work in film and television more than on the live stage.
Here, the biggest “name” is Mr. Arkin’s, and while he’s a fine performer he is no more featured than anyone else in the cast. And, it really doesn’t matter, as the ensemble’s the thing.
In general, the Poway Center for the Performing Arts sponsors popular music events but the series typically includes at least one theatre piece, often requiring little in the way of production, and often in the time slot right around Washington’s Birthday (February 22). If you’re a theatre buff, make sure you know what the Poway Center is doing so that when that infrequent foray into theatre comes around you’ll be able to take advantage of it.