During the first act of The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock exclaims in a fit that his father, as well as everyone that his father knows, are grotesque. I think there couldn’t be a more appropriate description of what follows in the next hour of the show.
Based on a novel of the same title written by Charles Webb and the 60s film starring Anne Bancroft and the very young Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate is characterized by that feeling of being trapped, the need to break free, and ultimately, one’s inability to escape fate. The stage version, however, seemed to miss the point of the story and portrayed relationships of repulsive, whiny people and even rewarded them with a happy ending.
The seduction scene, which was key for Braddock to have a temporary out from the overwhelming world that his parents have set-up for him, was supposed to be rooted from an overpowering attraction of a young man to a beautiful, sophisticated and willing older woman. Now I have nothing but respect for Pinky Marquez for being one of the premiere actresses in Philippine Theater, but she was all sorts of wrong for the iconic role of Mrs. Robinson. Marquez, who was tapped to replace Cherie Gil, seemed uncomfortable with the role and portrayed it with her distinctive singsong that is more reminiscent of the old Mrs. Gill in No Way to Treat a Lady. Her performance lacked any resemblance to the manipulative seductress who is also trying to cope with a deep sadness borne out of being trapped in a dull and loveless marriage.
Atadero, on the other hand, made a goofy interpretation of Benjamin Braddock. This is the same tone that was used by the other characters of the play which worked in some of the scenes. It did not offer a lot of depth nor an opening for the audience to see any internal struggle, but it was able to elicit a few laughs. In some scenes, Atadero acted more like a giggly 13-year-old who had just seen a naked lady for the first time than a young lad who just finished college and is trying his best to act like a man.
If the baffling attraction of Benjamin to Mrs. Robinson isn’t enough, enters the young Elaine Robinson that was played as whiny and unlovable by Cara Barredo. Elaine talks about art and fighting for a cause but later contradicts herself by questioning her suitability for an intellectual mate like Braddock. This makes the audience question altogether Braddock’s sanity for choosing these women or at least makes you think that they somehow skipped a part where Braddock took some powerful drug that impairs his judgment.
In the end, this stage adaptation of The Graduate abandons all the intelligence that defined this classic tale and gives the characters a version of a happy ending despite all the rash and wrong decisions that were made. I distinctly remember the movie ending with Benjamin and Elaine riding off in a bus as the camera zooms on the uncertainty and regret on their faces. As the scene fades out it makes you realize that this isn’t a romantic story where people ride off to the sunset and all their mistakes become a distant memory that everyone can just move on from. In fact, The Graduate is a cautionary tale that people, in their loneliness and uncertainty can make more mistakes and sometimes we just have to stop before these mistakes consume us. This stage adaptation could have made use of that lesson. It could have stopped altogether and re-examined itself.
Read the complete review at broadwayworld.com.