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A CurtainUp Review
The Graduate

Moments Of Kathleen Turner In the Altogether Carry The Brits' Staged Adaptation of a Cult Film to Broadway

Kathleen Turner
Kathleen Turner (Photo:Joan Marcus)
Interestingly this screen-to-stage adaptation of Mike Nichol's 1967 film had its official Broadway opening on the same day as Steve Martin's adaptation of a 1911 domestic farce, The Underpants (my review). Lest anyone wonder about the relevancy of a brouhaha caused by a few moments' display of feminine flesh as a result of a pair of inadvertently dropped bloomers, it should be noted that the London success of Turner's Mrs. Robinson owed much to her few moments of baring all. This bit of naughtiness may also account for a five million dollar advance and even a premium price ticket but I'm too weary from sitting through this ill-conceived staged adaptation to figure out the per-second cost of looking at Turner's well-seasoned body, at either the regular $75 or $250 a pop.

Alicia Silverstone & Jason Biggs
Alicia Silverstone & Jason Biggs (Photo:Joan Marcus)
Since I'm posting this on the same page where Lizzie Loveridge provided chapter and verse about the plot and Terry Johnson's alterations when The Graduate began its two-year run in the West End, I'll cut right to the chase. From an artistic point of view, Johnson's new Graduate, with its broad, nudgy wink at the movie known even to those too young to know it except as a video, is one British import Broadway didn't need. The transfer impressed me even less than it did Lizzie in London.

Alicia Silverstone and Jason Biggs, the new Elaine and Benjamin, may have the box office credentials (she by way of Clueless and he by way of two editions of American Pie) but neither comes even close to casting off the shadow of the actors Johnson's piggyback tactic won't let us forget. The script, which freely borrows from the film, now comes off as stale and static. Without exaggerating too much, the most original line comes from the pre-curtain voice-over which purposefully reminds us that The Graduate takes place three decades before cell phones. The mother-daughter drunk scene gratuitously inserted by Johnson, not only isn't interesting but changes the story's entire dynamic. The same can be said for the gratuitous therapy session (in bean bag chairs!) with a long-haired family counsellor (Robert Emmet Lunney who also plays two other minor roles) and, even more so, the drastically revamped ending.

Even the excellent Victor Slezak has a hard time putting flesh on this Mr. Robinson. In fact, if Murphy Guyer who plays Mr. Braddock didn't have less hair on top of his head and more on his upper lip than Slezak, you'd have a hard time differentiating between the characters of the two fathers. Kate Skinner is as defeated as these actors in making Benjamin's mother less of an over the top silly stereotype.

That brings me to the raison d'être for the big advance sale, Kahtleen Turner. I don't quite share Lizzie's admiration. Sure, Turner has stage presence and delivers her sardonic zingers as easily as she downs her drinks. Given Johnson's tediously sluggish direction, it's also true that the show shows some signs of life whenever she's on stage. But even her famously husky voice and her full-bodied sexiness can't compensate for the high-camp flavor of her performance. It's as if she hasn't quite separated herself from her recent portrait of Tallulah Bankhead.

Rob Howell, who like Terry Johnston, does two jobs poorly, has created a large louvered door set that goes with the overall monotony and his costumes are hardly period perfect. With outfits like that little suit in the last scene, Ms. Turner would have done better to spend more time without any clothes on.

In the interest of fair play, I should mention that many of the people at the Thursday evening performance I attended laughed often and uproariously. Two twenty-something young women sitting in back of me fairly burst with enthusiasm, with one telling the other "I love it. I really love it." They were not alone. Ms. Turner had plenty of opportunity to toss her lion's mane of hair as she bowed to the fans who rose from their seats to give her a noisy standing ovation. For this critic and a fair number of less smitten audience members, there were times when The Graduate brought visions of being snuggled up in bed watching the video with Ann Bancroft packing more sex appeal into the act of rolling down her stockings than a dozen full frontal nude scenes. -- Elyse Sommer

1960 film version of Charles Webb's novel adapted and directed by Terry Johnson
Cast: Kathleen Turner (Mrs. Robinson), Jason Biggs (Benjamin Braddock), Alicia Silverstone (Elaine Robinson), Murphy Guyer (Mr. Braddock), Victor Slezak (Mr. Robinson), Kate Skinner (Mrs. Braddock), Robert Emmet Lunney (the Hotel Clerk, the Bar Patron and the Psychiatrist), John Hillner (the Bartender, the Priest and the Motel Manager), Kelly Overton (the Assistant Desk Clerk), Judson Pearce Morgan (the Bellhop and Man in Bar) and Susan Cella (the Stripper).
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including 1-15 minute intermission.
Plymouth, 236 W. 45 St. (Broadway/8th Av) 239-6200
3/15/02-6/30/02. Tue-Sat @ 8 pm, Wed & Sat @ 2 pm, Sun @ 3pm - $25-$75 plus $1.25 Facilities Fee

The production continued even after Kathleen Turner turned the lead over to Lorraine Bracco -- but only to March 2, 2003.
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---Our Original London Review- by Lizzie Loveridge (April, 2000)
Mrs Robinson - Benjamin do you find me attractive?
Benjamin -Yes Mrs Robinson, you are the most attractive of all my parents' friends.
I think I might have seen Mike Nichol's film of The Graduate more than most people. This was not because I had to see it over and over because it was such a good film, although it was surely one of the best, but because of the power outages. It was released in Britain in the middle of one of the coal miners' strikes which caused power stations to suddenly cut off the electricty. I remember the stripper getting to tassel swinging stage behind the tearful face of Katharine Ross as Elaine, when with a dying groan, the reel slowed to a stop. The cinema gave us return tickets and again the same thing happened. Here is this icon of 1960s culture. So what happens when you convert a memorable film for the stage? For many of the audience, this is not an issue because this is their first Graduate .

The plot is this: After a party at his parents' house to celebrate his graduation, Ben Braddock is initiated into sex by the woman he always addresses as Mrs Robinson. She is a middle aged married woman with a drink problem, who also happens to be a friend of his parents. His parents pressure him to take out a girl of his own age on a date and this girl is none other than Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine . The whole is a sparkling satire on middle class, aspiring America with a take on the expectation of parents and the reflected glory of designer offspring.

The news surrounding the London stage version of the film has been all about film actress Kathleen Turner getting her kit off. Within days of the first preview performance, tickets were selling like hot cakes and the theatre had taken a million in advance sales. Well to cut to the bare essentials (forgive the pun), she does appear on stage without a stitch on and she looks superb. Like the naked Kidman scene in the much hyped The Blue Room, the lights are turned low and it is all very tasteful. Dressed or undressed, Kathleen Turner demands your attention. Her portrayal of the single minded Mrs Robinson with the throaty voice and her matter of fact delivery of great one liners cannot fail to amuse. She makes this show. My main reservation about her role is that when she turns nasty, she comes across as too wholesome, too attractive.

Matthew Rhys has the difficult task of reproducing Dustin Hoffman's seminal title role but he captures some of Ben's aimlessness and is a good foil for Turner. Colin Stinton is fine as Mr Robinson, the giver of unsolicited advice ("plastics!"), cuckolded husband and irate father. Kelly Reilly's almost frumpy but capricious Elaine pleased the audience more than she did me. Amanda Boxer is wasted in the role of Ben's mother, a talented mouse.

How does the play differ from the film? Writer/director Terry Johnson has made most of the first half of the play a reproduction of scenes from the film but has added a scene in which Elaine downs a tumbler of neat vodka and gets drunk with her mother. Yet there is nothing in the mother-daughter relationship to convince us this could happen. If Ben is looking for someone he can have a conversation with as opposed to his "Wham bam, thank you Ma'am" clandestine hotel bedroom encounters with Mrs Robinson, why make Elaine so uninteresting? Her own mother describes her thus, "the dreary dilligence, the enduring dullness, she is 90% him (Mr Robinson) and 10% me." Another inserted scene has Ben's parents taking him to a Beatle coiffed, chin bearded psychiatrist. The major rewrite is reserved for the final scenes. Elaine, instead of running away from the angry faces of mother, father and husband, leaves the church with Ben after talking to her mother. They end up in a seedy hotel room eating Cheerios and not sure whether or not they will be suited to a life together.

Rob Howell's set metamorphoses very well into bedroom, hotel lobby, hotel bedroom, even into the church with the addition of some stained glass but the staging seems stuck in the 1960s. However the lighting through the vast number of louvred, wooden slatted doors is effective.

Am I being unfair criticising the play for differing from the film? Maybe, but as the play uses so much that is evocative of the film -- the same music from Simon and Garfunkel, the same louvred door sets, the same kiss while holding in cigarette smoke -- the comparison is inevitable. The problem with the changes is that they are not details but affect motivation and characterisation. Elaine becomes frumpy, Mrs Robinson is nicer and less predatory. Still, Kathleen Turner adds a luminous presence to the London stage and the main reason to see this Graduate. If you can't get a ticket, there's always the movie which still ranks high as a video.

Adapted by Terry Johnson
based on the novel by Charles Webb
and the motion picture screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry
Directed by Terry Johnson

Starring: Kathleen Turner
With: Matthew Rhys, Kelly Reilly, Amanda Boxer, Paul Jesson, Colin Stinton, Alan Barnes, Sara Bienvenu, Sally Chattaway, Josh Cohen, Geoffrey Towers
Set Design: Rob Howell
Lighting Design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Design: Mike Walker
Music: Barrington Pheloung and Original artists
Running time: Two hours fifteen minutes with an interval
The Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1
Box Office: 020 7494 5065
Booking to June 17th 2000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th April 2000 performance at The Gielgud Theatre, London W1
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