April 5, 2013
"The Graduate" was a 1967 film directed by Mike Nichols, and starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft that is considered one of the landmark films of the 1960s. The film also boasts of a fantastic soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel. It was about a new college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) who was seduced by Mrs. Robinson, wife of Ben's dad's best friend. Their illicit affair continues until the day Benjamin meets and actually falls in love with Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine.
For me, the movie was more interesting in the first half during Mrs. Robinson's seduction of Benjamin. Those scenes were really funny as they were sensuous. Mrs. Robinson is the most famous cougar in film history and this iconic reputation is deserved as portrayed by Ms. Bancroft. The second half when the conflict with Elaine came up, I felt the film became quite contrived with how the story developed and climaxed with an open ending on the bus. Still, I was very curious how this story could be brought to life onstage.
The play was adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson, based on the 1963 novel by Charles Webb and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. The first act was quite loyal to the film with several of the classic lines and scenes, but adjusted for the set limitations. The one new scene there was one rather long drunken conversation between Mrs. Robinson and Elaine. The second half again had the problems of the film in terms of contrived situational content. It does go beyond the open ending of the movie, and had some closure-like dialog between Elaine and her parents at the church before she left, and between Elaine and Benjamin in bed at the hotel where they went after eloping.
One of the most surprising casting choices was that of Ms. Pinky Marquez as Mrs. Robinson. Ms. Marquez had such a squeaky clean image that I knew of. She was perfect as Marmie in "Little Women", as well as the Mother Superior in "The Sound of Music" few years back. I knew her more as a flawless singer than an actress. And now here she is tackling one of the boldest female roles I have seen in a stage play. In the first act, the fearless Ms. Pinky went beyond what Anne Bancroft did in the film and went totally commando (with only a towel for minimal modesty)! While Mrs. Robinson really shone in the first act and Ms. Pinky gives the role her all, it was too bad the character got too monotonously angry and bitter in the second act as written, so there was not much range for Ms. Pinky to display.
Reb Atadero played the central title character Benjamin Braddock. His name is familiar, but I am not really sure I have seen him before on the stage. But after this play, he will definitely be remembered. Benjamin Braddock will be his signature role. Again it was in the first act where Atedero definitely shone in all his naive, nervous, stuttering charm with all the excellently written lines for his character. I am sure it was difficult for him not to be self-conscious during that long scene where he had to strut around the stage clad in his "not-too-tighty whities" just after he had a naughty romp in bed with a beautiful naked lady, but he was able to pull this off with confidence.
Cara Barredo played a delightful Elaine. I can completely see why Benjamin would fall for a girl like her, given the odds. Even if her best scene was also in Act I when Benjamin brought Elaine to a stripper joint, but it was her scenes that lit up the rather dreary Act II. She makes me smile whenever I see her on stage.
The supporting cast was excellent. Jeremy Domingo was once again very convincing as the devastated Mr. Robinson, as intense as ever. His confrontation scene with Benjamin in Act II was his highlight. Joel Trinidad stole several scenes in his hilarious multiple roles as hotel manager, psychologist and priest. This play's Director Jaime del Mundo tackled the role of Benjamin's father, Mr. Braddock, with authority. The actress who played the stripper (Natalie Everett) was truly daring with her jiggly burlesque dancing, just as it was done in the movie. Angela Padilla though looked too young to be credible Benjamin's mother.
I also have to comment on the music. This classically beautiful moody music by Simon and Garfunkel is the heart of the original movie. In this play, a guy was singing "Sounds of Silence" and "Mrs. Robinson" et al live (?), a capella, unplugged. There were many times when the singer would be off key, be unsure with lyrics or would suddenly shift pitches mid-song. Is this done on purpose for effect? I do not know. I knew this isn't a musical, but I wish this singer sang better, instead of sounding careless or haphazard. The disappointing singing was distracting from, rather than enhancing the mood, in my opinion.
As for the minimalist set, I was admiring the very deep and wide stage (they even covered the orchestra pit) with one bed at the back wall. This back wall will play with our sense of perspective as the play proceeds. The shutters on the doors on both sides provided for very dramatic lighting effects.
"The Graduate" is one very mature comedy that also demands maturity from its audience. Act I is perfectly written and staged -- a true audience-pleaser. I think because of how fantastic Act I was, people can expect too much from Act II which it may not deliver for all. I guess there is not much that can be done with the way the play had been written even though I felt that the play could have been tightened more during those many wordy scenes that bog the play down, especially in Act II. Overall though, the play is both fun and thought-provoking. Once again, it was the talents of the Filipino actors that really make this play come alive and be so vital despite its inherent limitations.
“The Graduate” shows are scheduled on April 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27 and 28, at Onstage, Greenbelt 1, Makati. Because of the nudity and mature themes, this is Rated R. Only adults 18 year-old and above are allowed to enter.
For ticket reservations, call Rep at (02) 571-6926 or Ticketworld at (02) 891-9999.