The problem with the Arts Club production of The Graduate is not that there is anything wrong with it, but because there will be the inevitable comparisons to what many consider to be one of the best movies ever made. And while it could be argued that any stage version would be hard pressed to match the classic 1967 film for its cultural significance, this production can definitely rest on its own merits.
Returning to his comfortably middle-class home from college, Benjamin Braddock (Kayvon Khoshkam) is bored and like a great many young people of the time is at cross-roads in American history. While the idea of hippies and free-love are not to be found in Ben’s bourgeois existence, the youthful rebellion of the time is reflected in his confusion about his place in the world. In walks, quite literally, Mrs Robinson (Camille Mitchell) who, being the original real housewife of Orange County, is also bored and is bent on putting a little spice back into her own by seducing him. With a push from his parents (Lisa Bunting and Bill Dow) though, Benjamin soon moves from the elder Robinson to the younger daughter, Elaine (Celine Stubel).
The set-up in act one did tend to drag in certain scenes, not the least of which was when mother and daughter get drunk together in an endless scene that just didn’t seem to go anywhere. Act two, however, took on a life of its own with Khoshkam’s Ben exploding in his pursuit of Stubel’s Elaine. Even in the movie I never quite got what Benjamin ultimately saw in Elaine, or vice versa, but there was a nicely hesitant connection between the two that makes you believe that they believe their union could actually work. Mitchell’s controlled Mrs Robinson brings a calculated sexiness to the role that makes her ultimately believable and its not hard to see why Benjamin becomes ensnared in her own quest for meaning.
Set designer Amir Ofek attempts his own homage to the film with a glimmering swimming pool taking up nearly half the stage but without the film’s context it just makes for some awkward scene changes. His turntable set though, moving us from bedroom to bedroom works well, complete with tone-on-tone wood paneling and that authentic 60s-modern feel. He is helped immensely by Ted Roberts lighting.
Along with the distinction of landing the number seven spot on the list of the American Film Institute’s 100 best American movies, the film version of The Graduate is also well-known for its Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. While the rights for “Sounds of Silence” and “Mrs Robinson” may have been out of reach for this Arts Club production, the decision to use original music from Vancouver’s indie/folk band Ivory Sky is an inspired choice. I was only disappointed in finding out the soundtrack, which is to be the group’s debut album, is not yet for sale.
Here’s to you Mrs Robinson: it might be 44 years later, but your powers of seduction still work.
Adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson based on the novel by Charles Webb and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. Directed by Lois Anderson. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.