'The Graduate'

Ben Miles

The 1967 film, “The Graduate,” adapted from Charles Webb’s novel of the same title by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, was transformed into a stage play by Terry Johnson. It made its Broadway debut in April of 2002.

Now SoCal audiences have the opportunity to enjoy this lascivious coming of age tale at the Laguna Playhouse through March 25. Inventively directed by Michael Matthews with a strong and eclectic cast and ensemble, this two hour, two act reimagining of “The Graduate” has loads of laughter mixed with the pathos and anxiety of the Swinging Sixties, the period in which it is set.

With a credible troupe of characters lead by Melanie Griffin as the lecherous, boozy Mrs. Robinson and Nick Tag as the callow, virginal Benjamin Braddock – who is the titular graduate – the story moves swiftly and at the quick-speed of dramatized life.

Benjamin is the only child of the well-healed Mr. and Mrs. Braddock (excellently embodied by Richard Burgi and Valerie Perri). As longtime family friends, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson (a convincing Geoffrey Lower and a convincingly sexy Ms. Griffin) join in to celebrate Benjamin’s recent graduation from an Ivy League enclave.

Benjamin’s alienation and waywardness is conveyed through clever exposition, and when a slightly inebriated Mrs. Robinson makes an unwelcome intrusion into Benjamin’s bedroom the young man’s awkward cluelessness becomes apparent, as do Mrs. Robinson’s carnal strategies.

To complicate matters, the Robinsons have a college-age daughter, Elaine (the wonderfully vivacious Martha Magruder) attending Cal Berkeley, with whom Mr. and Mrs. Braddock, as well as Mr. Robinson insist that Benjamin, against Mrs. Robinson’s intense objections, take on a date. Resist as he might, Benjamin does succumb to the three-parent demand of dating Elaine. In an attempt to make the encounter as awful as possible, Benjamin rendezvouses with Elaine at a strip joint in a seedy part of town. Nevertheless, Benjamin is unable to resist his genuine attraction to Elaine.

With a sixties soundtrack including such Top-40 hits as Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” and, of course, Simon & Garfunkel’s memorable “Mrs. Robinson” (with a crisp sound design by Mike Ritchey); colorful costumes reflective of the period (by Kate Bergh); and a marvelously versatile and utilitarian scenic design (by Stephen Gifford), this production of “The Graduate” is a consummate success that stands on its own, above and even beyond the novel or the film.

Adding to the sense of time and place is the subtle but challenging lighting motif (designed by Tim Swiss) and an excellent ensemble of 10, which not only functions in various character roles (of which Taylor Rene LaBarbera as the pole-dancing, pasty-wearing stripper and Gregory Butler as the psychiatrist are two outstanding examples), but also as stagehands, moving props during fast-paced scene changes.

“The Graduate” continues through March 25. Evening performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Thursdays and Saturdays and at 1 p.m. on Sundays (call for exceptions). The Laguna Playhouse is located at 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.

For reservations, call (949) 497-2787. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.lagunaplayhouse.com.




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