The 1967 film “The Graduate” introduced the world to “Mrs. Robinson” and launched the career of actor Dustin Hoffman. A stage adaptation of the film is now playing at Corn Stock
Theatre. Marty Lynch has this review for Peoria Public Radio and the Live Theatre League of Peoria. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer, not those of Peoria Public Radio or the Live Theatre League.
The Graduate is one of those stories that an entire generation owns. It was more than a film; it was a portrait of an era. The novel is fifty years old now, and the film is not far off. When Corn Stock Theatre announced that it was producing the stage adaptation, I was curious about the longevity of The Graduate. The fact is that the stage adaptation feels timelier than the film.
This production is more light-hearted than the film and gives us a little more insight into the world Benjamin Braddock lives in. It also pays homage to the film by firing off the two most famous lines in the first few minutes.
That is not to say that the stage adaptation is a new take on the old story. The story belongs to Benjamin Braddock, a bright young man with no particular wish to take the next step into adulthood. In this new world he is constantly barraged by people who want to aim his potential one way or another. Enter Mrs. Robinson, a bored housewife who approaches him with one carnal aim. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ben carries on this way until he meets Elaine Robinson and tries to shake off his mistakes and start fresh. It’s a naïve wish that can’t succeed. The play does a great job of pitting characters that don’t know what they want against each other. They know they are lacking something but don’t know how to get what they need.
This show needs three strong actors to stay on course and director Chip Joyce to point them in the right direction. Joyce gives us a theatrical rendition, unique and innovative yet respectful of the film. The iconic images are embraced rather than resisted, and the strength of Corn Stock’s intimate space is also played up for maximum value.
But that direction requires talent onstage, and the core of Tim Jenkins, Trish Ballard, and Laura Miller-Mansoori deliver. Miller-Mansoori plays Elaine Robinson and makes her far more engaging than I ever considered her. Up until now, she had always seemed a distant ideal for the man to pursue. This Elaine, on the other hand, thinks, feels, and resists acting the way she is expected to. She also has a scene with her mother in the show that makes both women human. Trish Ballard, as Mrs. Robinson, begins as a fierce, determined woman with a mission. As the play unfolds, she becomes bored, jealous, cruel, and perhaps self-aware in a way that’s fascinating considering her near total absence for chunks of act two.
Tim Jenkins as Ben Braddock, however, is the key to the entire show. It is a lot to ask of a young actor to play this role. Mr. Jenkins is age appropriate yet talented beyond his years. This is a new Benjamin Braddock: younger and more vulnerable, handsome and still totally guileless, and able to shift his interactions seamlessly whenever his surroundings change.
What makes this play is the ability to echo the film and build its own story. The scene in the hotel room with Mrs. Robinson works because we all know how it happens onscreen. A scene with Elaine works because we have the film and the stage in our mind. The space for this show is in the round, which gives us an unrelenting view into the sordid life of our hero, expertly kept to a PG-13 rating by some cleverly arranged set dressing.
If you are thinking that it might be time to revisit the film, don’t. It was amazing when you saw it for the first time but now it’s too much a product of its time. See the play instead. I promise you will have a better experience.
The Graduate continues at Corn Stock Theatre Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm; Sunday at 2:30. Information and tickets are available at 676-2196, or cornstocktheatre.com.