As Mrs. Robinson, the predatory cougar in the Segal Centre’s coarse, hard-edged and erratic stage adaptation of The Graduate running until Sept. 21, Brigitte Robinson glows like tip of her smoldering, ever- present cigarette. The overall production of the 1967 cinema classic, however, has lost something in the transformation from the screen to the stage. The play has all of the substance and none of the charm of the original. It gets off to a promising start as Mrs. Robinson seduces Benjamin Braddock, the20-year old misfit hero (Luke Humphrey.) within the first ten minutes. It opens with Humphrey sitting at the edge of his bed in a scuba diving suit refusing to go downstairs to meet the guests at the graduation party his parents are throwing for him. Mrs. Robinson stumbles into his room , and before you can say “this conversation is getting a little strange,” tears her clothes off and stands stark naked before him. Unfortunately, what follows is Terry Johnson’s wonderfully unremarkable mishmash of a script that telegraphs the best parts of the film classic, throws in a t otally uncessary contemporary spin,, but misses much of the underlying tension that made Charle’s Webb’s coming of age novel such a hit..
In spite of Andrew Shaver’s determined and occasionally inspired direction the name of the play is The Graduate. It is above all a period piece about a disillusioned boy-toy, Benjamin Braddock not about the totally dysfunctional Mrs. Robinson . Her backstory, a melodramatic update added to reveal the desperation of a suburban housewife robs the piece of much of what made her so mysterious a seductress in the first place. And, as buff and as handsome as Humphrey is, he lacks the vulnerability and what a friend of mine described as the “bad boy quality” that would make him attractive to either Mrs. Robinson or to her daughter, Elaine. ( Georgina Beaty). Beaty is touching in her confusion and conflicted feelings, but one wonders why she would even consider becoming a runaway bride and eventually end up with her mother’s stud.
Graham Cuthbertson plays s several supporting roles with his usual aplomb, including a scene stealing hotel desk clerk. Seska Lee has a turn as a brassy stripper in a sleazy bar and Marcel Jeannin and Jane Wheeler are fine as Benjamin’s exasperated parents. Alain Goulem plays Mr. Robinson, the cuckolded husband, with seething restraint for the most part, but, curiously, at the end of the show turns into an axe wielding monster,
James Lavoie’s set is serviceable but bland; a subdued, pastel vision of what was, after all, a psychedelic time. Even the rear screen projections lack permissive abandon of the 60s. Susan Vera’s costumes, however, are right on the money. The original music written and performed by Justin Rutledge and Matthew Barber is frankly, monotonous. What’s more, their wandering across the stage like folkies from some coffee house is distracting. And the slapstick denouement, which admittedly gets laughs turned the wedding scene, and the drama which had been building into open farce. As entertainment, The Graduate gets a passing grade, but barely: A for its acting and for Shaver’s ambition, B for its bravado, C for its conversion from screen to stage, and D for double standards when it comes to nudity. (Why, for example, does Benjamin keep his boxers on when Mrs. Robinson bares all. ?)