Wow. We just saw The Graduate on Broadway, with Kathleen Turner in the Anne Bancroft role of Mrs. Robinson.
The mind boggles.
(If you’re not familiar with the film, this discussion is unlikely to be of interest.)
Much of the play sticks with the film, at least in the dialogue that survives and the main story points. But then the final minutes veer off the tracks massively.
When Benjamin goes to the church, everything changes. He and the Robinsons have a long, talky scene where Elaine vascillates between going through with the wedding and running off with Benjamin. Her parents argue with her, Benjamin argues with her, and it isn’t until she overhears her mother describing her as a moron and a dullard that she chooses Benjamin. They leave the church with the blessing of Mrs. Robinson–“This is the only time I’m ever going to support your decisions!” Turner cries–and then in lieu of the intensely ambiguous bus scene, we see Benjamin and Elaine in a motel room. They more or less reenact Benjamin’s first sexual encounter with Mrs. Robinson in a creepy but bluntly obvious bit of parallel action, and then they sit on the bed and sort Cheerios together, laughing and smiling.
That’s the end of the play.
WTF? I’m baffled. Admittedly, it’s probably better than watching Jason Biggs and Alicia Silverstone sit on a bus set and stare blankly into the audience for four minutes, which is how the film’s ending would play on stage with this cast. But good lord! Mike said it was like watching some freakish director’s cut.
Turner is imperious. At times she reminded me of George Washington: not in appearance, but in her bearing and her tone. She constantly seemed to be in the prow of the boat crossing the Delaware, stern and forward-leaning, her voice one of utter command. You can’t take your eyes off her, though her interpretation of the character is so focused and distilled that she doesn’t quite come across as a real woman anymore–she’s a force of nature.
Biggs is lackluster as Benjamin. He doesn’t communicate any of the depression or the impotent anger of the character until the second act, when he at least has the benefit of being proactive in stalking Elaine. But the first act has him operating on the level of Steve Gutenberg, a competent line-tosser whose chief virtue is that he speaks quickly and clearly enough to approximate wit. His professed rebellion is empty and unsatisfying. He does succeed in being flustered and awkward in his bedroom scenes with Turner, which is appropriate, but flustered and awkward is most of the range he expresses throughout.
Silverstone is just bizarre. Her Elaine seems at times to be a mature, intelligent, and passionate woman of real conviction, but she spends most of her time at the apparent age of eleven–or eight when she gets drunk with her mother, in another long, talky scene not found in the film. She’s just all over the map, playing dumb-sweet one minute and fiery the next. It’s not an interesting or credible oscillation, however–it just comes across as frustratingly inconsistent.
I did quite like the supporting cast, particularly Benjamin and Elaine’s fathers. Those two did excellent work in thin parts as proud and angry authority figures, and I thought they dominated the stage when they really got going.
All told, this stage version of The Graduate is a massive exercise in compromise. I well realize the difficulty in adapting a creative work from one medium to another. But instead of rising to the challenge of meeting the film’s rich ambiguity and dark digressions, the writer/director of the show has turned it into a new-age farce.
I’m very glad I went–it was great fun to see a Broadway show, and overall it was a fascinating, thought-provoking experience.
Just not for the reasons the creators intended.