The Graduate

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

By Terry Johnston
Performed by Sonja Smits, Andrew Hachey, et al
Directed by Miles Potter
Grand Theatre
October 10 – October 28, 2006

Humour is muted in Sixties Satire

Everyone knows The Graduate is the story of the older woman having an affair with the young man who just finished college. She’s old enough to be his mother. In fact, he later falls in love with her daughter. Ironically, the play is really about the generation gap that caused so much havoc in the sixties. By being intimate, these two characters have actually widened that gap.

Well-to-do American suburbanites had no communication with their offspring. This disjointedness led to rebelliousness, long hair, protests, and drugs. The Graduate takes place in the early sixties and lays the groundwork for the upcoming revolution. With hindsight, we see the humour in the relationship between Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin.

When the very popular movie first came out 40 years ago, the audience of burgeoning baby-boomers identified with young Benjamin. The stage version was developed in 2000, and today’s audiences of aging baby boomers identify with Mrs. Robinson, or at least can now see how bored and miserable she is.

With Simon and Garfunkle’s song Mrs. Robinson playing in the background, the opening night audience at the Grand Theatre were taken back on a satirical nostalgia trip. And while there are few out and out laughs, the irony is evident throughout, offering many wry smiles.

The play opens to Benjamin walking about in a wet suit with flippers on his feet. Watching someone walk in big webbed feet is always funny, but this also set the tone — Benjamin is drowning, he is overwhelmed by adulthood.

Sonja Smits is excellent as the steamy Mrs. Robinson. She is familiar for her television appearances, most notably for her ongoing roles in Street Legal and Traders. Smits, well in her forties and very attractive, had no need for concern when she bared it all in the so-called seduction scene. She plays the part of the bored and ignored desperate housewife very well. She has her hands full — a cigarette in one and a whiskey in the other, as well as a young man willing to meet her for a regular afternoon rendez-vous at the local hotel.

Andrew Hachey as Benjamin is also good — his nervousness in the initial encounters provides humour, as does his waffling when he is unable to decide to stop the affair.

The other characters are really just caricatures — no more than stereotypes. We assume director Miles Potter wanted them this way for the comedy and also to keep the attention on the relationship between Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin. Richard Alan Campbell as Mr. Robinson and Doug Macleod as Mr. Braddock are deliberately one-dimentional — typical of the workaholic breadwinner of that era. Similarly, Janet-Laine Green as Mrs. Braddock is a simple housewife, even appearing in apron and oven mitts.

Jennifer Harding deserves mention for her role as the stripper. Her nude scene probably required more effort than Mrs. Robinson’s. Maria Dinn as Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, is too simple and shallow as a character — one wonders why Benjamin would ever be interested in her. Whether she is intended to be a weak character or the presentation is lacking, it is disappointing. Completing the cast were Jim Doucette and M. H. Oliver who each had several roles.

The set is a wall of giant louvered doors, which remained whether it is Benjamin’s bedroom, the hotel room, or the Robinson’s family room. Again, Benjamin appears to be overwhelmed by the bigness that surrounds him. The array of sixties furniture in the muted lighting is captivating.

Miles Potter’s The Graduate makes one think about one’s own relationships, both with aging parents and growing kids. This production uses satire to point out the contrived conflicts. Thankfully, over the last four decades, the generation gap has narrowed.

The Graduate continues at the Grand Theatre in London until October 28. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.