Theater Review: The Graduate

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For those who might have wondered how Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson looked without their clothes, or what they did together at the Taft Hotel, this play's for you.

Terry Johnson's adaptation of the celebrated 1967 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft is a warts-and-all retelling of "The Graduate" that distills the story to its blackest, barest essence. Jules Aaron's tightly focused direction zeroes in on the shallowness and hypocrisy of Benjamin's and Elaine's parents, frequently turning them into cartoons. It's a fair strategy, though playing Mr. Braddock like an Al Bundy knockoff can grow tiresome.

Mrs. Robinson (an entertaining Kelly Lloyd), in particular, gets a thorough going-over in this staging. The lady is a tramp, a bitch and a very bad parent, married to a man (Jim Keily) who is even less sympathetic. As for Benjamin's clueless mom and dad (Cindy Yantis and Jerry Lloyd), let's just say it's a tossup as to which set of parents is more disagreeable.

That's all the more reason the play needs a special actor in the lead role. Benjamin's ordinariness should be part of his charm: He's confused and passive to a fault, but his struggle to break free of his suffocating past should enlist our sympathy partly because he promises to become a more interesting person.

There's a way to play the character, as Hoffman showed, but Ben Campbell hasn't found the handle. Campbell plays Benjamin straight and earnest, without the subtle comic touch or skewed sensibility that might enliven the role. Nor is there much chemistry between Benjamin and poor, betrayed Elaine (Michelle Exarhos), Mrs. Robinson's dutiful daughter. One gets the impression that two or three weeks after these two flee the church together, they will go their separate ways.

Venue: El Centro Theatre, Hollywood (through April 5)
Cast: Ben Campbell, Kelly Lloyd, Michelle Exarhos, Jim Keily, Jerry Lloyd, Cindy Yantis, Sarah Stuckey
Director: Jules Aaron
Adapted by: Terry Johnson
Based on the novel by: Charles Webb
Screenplay by: Calder Willingham, Buck Henry
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