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The Graduate

When difficult things happen in a relationship, how can they be healed? Through forgiveness, of course, which involves a state of child-like innocence, much as we are told in that famous advice from the Christian bible, "Except ye become as little children ... ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."

For those of us only familiar with the 1967 film version of The Graduate, this is an unexpected message in the stage play, but it is all right there in the 1963 book and in the 2000 play, which has more in common with the book than the film.

(Left to right) Jack Wefso as Benjamin Braddock and Paul Page as Mr. Robinson
(L to R) Jack Wefso as Benjamin Braddock
and Paul Page as Mr. Robinson
Photo: Patricia Wells
Benjamin Braddock (Jack Wefso) returns home after graduating as valedictorian from college. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Braddock (Seth Rossman and Pam Clifton) throw him a party and invite their friends, including Mr. and Mrs. Robinson (Paul Page and Tracy Shaffer).

As Benjamin sits on his bed wearing a present from his parents, a wet suit and scuba gear (now there's an allegory!), wrestling with disillusionment and alienation from society, his father enters to importune him to join the party, followed by his mother, who mediates the stalemate. Next, Mr. Robinson comes upstairs to offer his congratulations and advice, including his famous imprimatur, "Plastics!"

Tracy Shaffer as Mrs. Robinson
Tracy Shaffer as Mrs. Robinson
Photo: Patricia Wells
Finally, after these encounters have passed, Mrs. Robinson enters Benjamin's childhood bedroom from down the hall, beginning her seduction that results in an affair. Their afternoon rendezvous become a routine part of Benjamin's seemingly lackadaisical summer, until Benjamin connects with the Robinsons' daughter, Elaine (Jamie Ann Romero), after which all hell breaks loose.

Director John Ashton chooses to de-emphasize the famous scene in which the audience gets a glimpse of Mrs. Robinson's flesh. The scene has been played many different ways: in the film, the shot of Anne Bancroft teasing us with the drawn out removal of her stockings is followed by quick cuts of a naked body double; on the London stage in 2000, a few years after Nicole Kidman bared all in The Blue Room, Kathleen Turner, a little "lumpy and bumpy" at 45, dropped her towel silhouetted by strong back lighting.

Tracy Shaffer plays the scene in her lingerie. It's a costume choice that accomplishes the intended effect—arousal—without taking the audience out of the moment; after all, the gratuitous nude scenes of the '60's are no longer in vogue and erotica, which has more to do with what you don't show than what you do, has been returned to its proper role. The time-lapse sex scenes, compressing the summer's assignations, are acrobatic and genuinely funny.

Shaffer is calm, collected, and calculating in her chic, early '60's cocktail dress and hair style. Mrs. Robinson gives Benjamin the education for which he was looking, but not exactly what his parents had in mind for graduate school. In another twist at the end, Shaffer shows us that even Mrs. Robinson is redeemable.

Wefso's Benjamin is a comical schlep of sorts a la Neal Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, save for the challenges he faces, which are more extreme. Wefso navigates these with comedic aplomb, reminding us during the dark moments that this is still a comedy.

(Left to right) Jamie Ann Romero as Elaine Robinson and Tracy Shaffer as Mrs. Robinson
(L to R) Jamie Ann Romero
as Elaine Robinson and
Tracy Shaffer as Mrs. Robinson
Photo: Patricia Wells
Paul Page's Mr. Robinson is an enigmatic arc from a genial, avuncular advisor to avenging and angry father, to mindful and apologetic husband. Rossman and Clifton are the perfect co-dependent enablers, forever accommodating their only child. Romero's Elaine is heart-centered, yet strong, able to stand up to her mother and forgive Benjamin and show him how to eat Cheerios.

If Nora's exit in The Doll's House, was "the door slam heard 'round the world" for feminism, Mrs. Robinson's entrance was "the door lock heard 'round the world" for frank sexual and psychological discussion, much as we suppose Oedipus Rex was in its day.

Jack Wefso as Benjamin Braddock and Jamie Lee Romero as Elaine Robinson
Jack Wefso as Benjamin Braddock and
Jamie Lee Romero as Elaine Robinson
Photo: Patricia Wells
Indeed, this is a classic comedy, beginning on one bed suffused with the aura of childhood, and ending on another bed bathed in a more spiritualized form of innocence, at the beginning of an adult relationship.

The Aurora Fox Theatre's production of The Graduate runs through March 14th. 303-739-1970 or www.AuroraFox.org.

Bob Bows

 

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