Critic, like crowd, gives thumbs-up to ‘The Graduate’

Ben Nyberg

By A Contributor

A near-capacity Grosh Performance Hall crowd gave an enthusiastic thumbs up this past Friday evening to the MAC Theatre company’s presentation of The Graduate,  the third installment in this season’s “Going to the Movies” series.

Performances of the play will continue March 1-4.

Terry Johnson’s 2000 comedy is an adaptation of the hit 1967 Mike Nichols directed film (itself adapted from a 1963 novel by Charles Webb) to which Anne Bancroft’s nudity lent—and apparently still lends—a naughty notoriety.

Although plenty of flesh does get intermittently exposed in our production as well (never altogether), it’s neither cheese- nor beef-cake that makes it worth watching. The seductive appeal it exerts comes not from sexual titillation but from the compelling charm of its principals’ portrayals.

And that’s saying a lot. Because Johnson’s script is a pretty paltry affair, incredibly thin and implausible, always out for the quippy one-liner, seriously short on character delineation and motivation, and badly out of touch with today’s realities (despite the attempts to update its ambience).

Yet with all these failings and more, it nonetheless provides a vehicle that a first-rate cast backed by a strong support team can ride to a win.

For instance, consider title character Benjamin Braddock, an irresponsible, clueless, egocentric, impulsive, willful, spoiled brat born and reared in a climate of privilege. All the actor portraying him has to accomplish is to make him someone an audience can care about, side with, and end up feeling warmly attached to.

This mission impossible is undertaken by a most welcome MAC Theatre newcomer, Richard Dean Prudenti, who wears so thoroughly innocent and honest a face and pursues his crazy goals throughout with such childish zest and naive trust in the rightness of his vision that we’re simply borne along in the wake of his enthusiasm.

For another instance, take poor Benjamin’s nemesis, the jaded and cynical, sex-starved, deceitful and conniving vamp, Mrs. Robinson. She who plays her has only to convince us that for all her faults she’s somebody whose company we’re happy to keep.  And so it is that, even if against our better judgment, we not only enjoy but relish it, thanks to the brash confidence and acidic candor of Krista Forster’s storm-trooper assault on every obstacle, personal or circumstantial, in her way to getting whatever she wants. She may deserve our denunciation, but becomes instead a guilty pleasure.

Completing the triangle of principals is the Robinsons’ daughter Elaine, a model of indecision, low self-esteem, and spineless docility, whom Katie Van Saun, in her MAC stage debut, sweet talks her way into our good graces so cunningly that we end up as gaga over her as Benjamin himself.

A strong supporting cast includes a fine pair of utility players, J. Ryan Roberts and BeckiJo Neill, who double as quick-change stagehands, Brent Sigman and Eric Danielson as the paternal stuffed shirts and Amy Ackerman as Mrs. Braddock.

But more than all the visible talent, the show’s top honors go to director Dave Smit, who recognizes that this “minimalist” script works best when it runs flat out, even to the point of players talking over one another, and with only the occasional full stop for a slow take on a spot of mugging or a pause for a laugh line to soak in. His feel for comic timing and pace make this production a treat truly worth the tasting. Bravo!

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