In a world where Michael Jackson continues to make headlines, it’s hard to believe that anything considered risqu? in 1963 could shock audiences today. However, director Terry Johnson’s stage adaptation of “The Graduate” does just that.
From the first notes of Simon and Garfunkel to the falling of the final curtain, this cinematic classic tantalizes at the Warner Theatre. The brave Morgan Fairchild-you can’t airbrush live nudity-plays the brazen, alluring Mrs. Robinson to Nathan Corddry’s cynical, angst-ridden Benjamin. Their affair sizzles onstage; without cameras and 1960s cinema decorum, the actors have room to play. The simple, functional set enhances the story by letting the characters tell it without unnecessary props. For the enduring tale of Braddock and Mrs. Robinson, simply a bed and some good lighting will do.
Of course, any adaptation must, well, adapt. Most of the modest detractions from the original screenplay bolster the stage version; some, however, could have been done without. The famous Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack gets a tasteful upgrade with the well-placed Beach Boys material, including “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and “California Girls.” There are also some juicy new scenes, including Benjamin’s road trip of self-discovery and a family therapy session with a Freudian shaman and bean bag chairs. The clothing and d?cor is fabulous, and the inescapable 1960s vibe makes the play feel ahead of its time.
Timeless or otherwise, “The Graduate” is undoubtedly striking in its honesty. Benjamin Braddock is a disillusioned college graduate with clueless parents (played by the terrifically talented William Hill and Corinna May) and no direction-until Mrs. Robinson gives him one. Their rendezvous presents some difficulty once he meets and falls in love with her daughter, Elaine (Winslow Corbett), but their trials and tribulations culminate in a fitting, to-heck-with-society flight from the church hand-in-hand where Elaine was in the process of marrying a medical student. At least, that’s what happens in the movie.
Here, Johnson’s changes are drastic-they make the story analogous with reality, but this brings it down rather than enlivens it. The famous, window-rattling church scene is sluggish and talked to death, with none of the accompanying romantic spontaneity that makes “The Graduate” such a classic. It could have worked, but the chemistry between the somber Benjamin and flighty, excessively na?ve Elaine is lacking. Without a believable connection (you begin to wonder why they like each other at all), the last 15 minutes of the play feels like overkill.
Luckily, Morgan Fairchild is consistently on hand to save the day. Her unabashed portrayal of the conniving, audacious Mrs. Robinson is impossible not to enjoy, and Mr. Robinson (Dennis Parlato) commands the stage with his vivacity. Discrepancies aside, “The Graduate” is a smart, fun, rollercoaster ride definitely worth watching-if only for Fairchild’s finesse. “The Graduate” is playing at the Warner Theatre through February 27. Tickets range from $38-$69. Call (202) 783-4000 for more information.