The Graduate

It isn't exactly like the movie, but City Theatre's stage adaptation is well-acted and provocative

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?: Tim Ashby as Benjamin and Angelina Castillo as Elaine
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?: Tim Ashby as Benjamin and Angelina Castillo as Elaine (Courtesy of Aleks Ortynski)

"This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future." You probably know the tagline. And if you don't, you almost certainly know the image: Anne Bancroft's legs in the foreground, with a sheepish Dustin Hoffman looking on, hands in pockets. As a movie, The Graduate is one of the most lauded works of American cinema, known for its groundbreaking filmmaking techniques and harsh social commentary. Unbeknownst to many, Mike Nichols' film is actually based on Charles Webb's novel of the same name, which was adapted for the stage in 2000 by Terry Johnson (brought to the West End with a red-hot Kathleen Turner as Mrs. Robinson). Taking on a cult classic of this caliber automatically invites comparison, and City Theatre Company's current production brings to life the tale's famous (or infamous, really) characters in a way that pays homage to the film without trying to imitate it.

If you're looking for a scene-by-scene reiteration of the movie, Johnson's script may not be for you. Pulling scenes from the book that were not included in the film and drumming up a few extra gives this stage adaptation some marked differences from the movie. Some of these I found logical for the change of medium: confining exchanges to one room or omitting scenes involving the pool, for example. Other changes to the story, however, I found detracted greatly: the so-called "simplicity" of Elaine's character, the added drunken conversation she has with her mother, and the series of events from the church to the play's (totally changed) final moment. But perhaps I would have no issue with these choices had I not been expecting something that adhered more closely to the film.

Despite any expectations going into the production, this cast's talent is difficult to deny. As the wayward Benjamin Braddock, Tim Ashby gives a fine portrayal of his character's angst and disillusionment, while sprinkling in some of the character's required nervousness. Like Bancroft before her, Tracy Hurd plays a Mrs. Robinson who isn't trying to seduce anyone – from her sultry voice to her elegance, her attractiveness leaps off the stage. Commanding more of the spotlight in the play than the film is Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine, whom Benjamin eventually falls for (or perhaps only thinks he does). Angelina Castillo gives her a big heart and believably portrays a wide range of emotions, so it's a shame that the play calls for Elaine to be less autonomous and intelligent than in the film. I would have enjoyed seeing her as a stronger female character. Still, Castillo excelled with the material she was given.

Rounding out the experience is Andy Berkovsky's apt scenic and lighting design, minimalistic but period appropriate and one of my favorites in City Theatre's recent history. Tracy Arnold's direction is sharp, and the quickly executed scene transitions keep the story rolling along at an enjoyable pace. Despite the script's deficiencies, City Theatre has mounted a well-acted and provocative version of a landmark piece.


The Graduate

City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 512/524-2870
www.citytheatreaustin.org
Through May 10
Running time: 2 hr., 15 min.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Theatre Company, Terry Johnson, Tracy Arnold, Andy Berkovsky, Tracy Hurd, Tim Ashby, Angelina Castillo, Charles Webb, Mike Nichols, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft

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