Greenbelt Arts Center The GraduateBy Genie Baskir • May 8th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Greenbelt Arts Center
Greenbelt Arts Center, Greenbelt, MD
Through May 19th
2:20 with intermission
$17/$14 Students and Seniors
Reviewed May 5th, 2012
In 1963, a recent college graduate named Charles Webb decided that he was not yet ready to be a man or a mensch, so he bypassed working for money and wrote a dirty book, cunningly titled The Graduate. It was, for that era, the 50 Shades Of Grey of its day. Oh dear…what is polite society supposed to do with such a book? Make it into a hit movie and cultural yardstick for the era. Right?…Of course I’m right.
Lacking talent, intelligence and testicular fortitude, theatrical poobahs of the early 21st century, too fearful of attempting to produce original work, dreamed up a scheme requiring famous, but aging, actresses to come to Broadway and appear stark, raving naked!!!!…in an adaptation called…ta da…. The Graduate.
Your reviewer is a bit of a puritan about these things. She has nothing personal against naked people. Some of her best friends are naked. Even she was naked once. What she has trouble with is the memory of naked people. From here on out, any mention of the name Rachel Duda and your reviewer’s response will be, “I know what she looks like naked.”
The image of the lovely and dumpling shaped Ms. Duda burned into the farthest reaches of your reviewer’s pea brain comes courtesy of the Greenbelt Arts Center and its production of The Graduate. The Graduate is really a very sophisticated send up of the social transition of the mid 1960’s from country club youth dances and cotillions to youth disaffection and rebellion and GAC’s Producer/Director Jeffery Lesniak reflects that sophistication here.
The immediate problem with the show is the absence of a set designer. It is the reviewer’s understanding that the set was created and built by the actors at the last minute…so all of that is forgiven. No further discussion about that. But the music is pure Paul Simon and Arthur Garfunkel with bit of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. But no “Mrs. Robinson,” the Oscar-winning theme of the film.
Benjamin Braddock (Zachary Hamilton) is the pride and joy of his upwardly social, upper middle class suburban parents. Mr. and Mrs. Braddock (Bob Kleinberg, Mendy Ault) are the portrait of success…lovely home, in ground swimming pool, country club membership, elite social standing and fully stocked bar. They are actually very nice people living the lives expected of them in 1963. Braddock is a lawyer and Olive is a homemaker. Ault transports us back into time with her helmet headed coif (Denise A. Levien) and brocaded apparel (Dory Gean Cunningham) illustrating her satisfaction with and achievement of her goal..to marry well and raise enviable children and Braddock is an upstanding man even if he is an annoying father. Ben is as rumpled as his father is sharp; but whereas Mr. Braddock’s self-satisfaction is grounded in genuine achievement, Ben is a supercilious twit dependent on that success as he insults his father for it.
Benjamin returns home from college graduation to a liquor soaked party by the pool in his honor. His unexplained disaffection is a puzzle to his proud parents, but a lure to his father’s business partner’s wife, Mrs. Robinson (Rachel Duda).
Mrs. Robinson, long neglected by her husband and ruminating over the emptiness of her nest, takes comfort in alcohol until she sees the opportunity for some good old-fashioned nookie in her rebel without a cause. Though Mrs. R. seems like the aggressor in the encounter in Benjamin’s bedroom, it is Ben who asks her directly if she is trying to seduce him…..duh…. She claims not to be seducing him, but she’s stark, raving naked!!!! while she disclaims any interest in him.
Ben is angry, alienated and antagonistic towards his parents and his life; his consternation at Mrs. R.’s advance evolves into intrigue and a desire to relieve himself of his apparent virginity.
Mrs. R. and Ben spend the summer in hourly rate hotel room bliss until the Robinson daughter, Elaine (Laura McGee), returns from Berkeley…of course. Normally, this shouldn’t be a problem except that horny Ben has convinced himself that he is in love with the insipid Elaine. Hijinks ensue, but all is not well that ends well.
The show seems to be an anachronism, but its theme of college graduation and the diffidence of youth embarking on adult independence is very au courant. Ben, in his desire and attempt to bind his self-image to the Pepsi Generation, has the drive to leave home and see what life will bring him serendipitously. He discovers he does not care for blue-collar work….but he doesn’t care for any work; so he returns home to his childhood room and Mrs. Robinson, whose husband is zonked out on sleeping pills every night. It seems that each generation has its boomerangs.
The two family conflagration that erupts when Ben and Mrs. R. are found out is embarrassing and dispiriting. Mr. R. is the infuriated,liquor soaked, barbiturate zonked cuckold. Mrs. R. is the discounted woman having lost both her husband and her lover. Elaine, for the first time, realizes that not only is life not so simple and uncomplex, but that she is the complication in more ways than one. The Braddock parents are mortified and afraid for their standing among the neighbors as they gamely try family therapy in an attempt to blame themselves for Benjamin’s self-destructive ennui. And Benjamin, in his conceit, wants what he wants, whether he knows just what that is or not.
Ault is sympathetic in the extreme when she moves from contented mother to undeserved, blame taking guilt. She is sincere and genuinely baffled by the turn her perfect life has taken; but she is never judgmental as might be expected considering the era. It is hard to know here how close Mrs. Braddock and Mrs. Robinson are to each other. It is the relationship between the two husbands that matters but the effects of all this mishigas on the two lawyers and their partnership is never made clear.
Mrs. Robinson is aggressive and downright predatory, but Duda’s interpretation is sympathetic. She is a soft dumpling of a woman trapping her prey with questions without easy answers in her sugary, velvet voice. She is a naked prosecutor questioning her subject into a corner from which he can’t escape. Once Mrs. R. achieves what she wants, she discovers she has created a monster who is turning on her…an immature and self-destructive Frankenstein who won’t see beyond the limit of his own tumescence.
Zachary Hamilton starts out tentatively, but turns in a canny performance as Benjamin. He keeps his panties on. His conceited disdain graduates into galling insistence as he pursues the daughter at the expense of the mother, who does have a genuine affection for him even if there is nothing of interest to talk about with him.
Lesniak preserves the sophistication of the text while his actors give body…no pun intended…and warmth to the story at hand. There are no lessons to be learned here and certainly no morals to be taken. By today’s standard, this is reality show fare dressed up as art and nothing shocking or unbelievable is occurring at all. The ending is a let down, but that seems what was intended all along. GAC’s production is good but the film is still The Graduate to see.
Photos by Jeff Lesniak
- Benjamin Braddock: Zachary Hamilton
- Mr. Braddock: Bob Kleinberg
- Mrs. Braddock: Mendy Ault
- Mr. Robinson: Aref Dajani
- Mrs. Robinson: Rachel Duda
- Elaine Robinson: Heather Martin (Laura McGee (May 4, 5, 6))
- Desk clerk, Bartender: Nigel Parkinson, Jr.
- Receptionist, Stripper, Psychiatrist: Jennifer Harvey
- Bar Patron, Priest: Phil Brandis
- Bar Patron: Brian Lynch
- Producer, Director, Technical Design: Jeffery Lesniak
- Stage Manager: Wynne Kleinberg
- Costume Design: Dory Gean Cunningham
- Hair/Makeup Design: Denise A. Levien
Disclaimer: Greenbelt Arts Center provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8020.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.