‘The Graduate’ Impresses at DPAC
Emily McConville | Sunday, February 16, 2014
“The Graduate” has long since entered the canon of pop culture as the quintessential cougar story — Benjamin Brockman, a recent college graduate lacking direction, begins an affair with his father’s colleague’s wife, Mrs. Robinson, before falling in love with her daughter, Elaine. The 1963 novel by Charles Webb was adapted four years later into a film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, propelling both Hoffmann and the duo Simon and Garfunkel (with their song “Mrs. Robinson”) to greater fame.
For the novel’s 50th anniversary, radio theatre company L.A. Theatre Works has taken its stage adaptation on tour, including three dates at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC). As with most productions by the L.A. Theatre Works, the cast contains seasoned stage and screen actors, with Matthew Arkin (“Law & Order”), Heidi Dippold (“The Sopranos”), Brian Tichnell (“The Newsroom”), Tom Virtue (“Even Stevens”), Diane Adair, Jill Renner and Darren Richardson. But L.A. Theatre Works is not a traditional theatre company. According to its website, the company, with its radio-theatre style, records plays for National Public Radio, the BBC and a host of international broadcasting organizations.
In one sense, I imagine watching the live performance is something like watching a dressed-up version of one of their studio recordings — on Friday night, several microphones lined the stage, surrounding a table containing a range of objects, from zippers to fabric to beer bottles. During a scene, the actors stood at the microphones and spoke their dialogue facing forward, speaking to each other but at the audience. There was limited physical action and almost no props, and when an actor mimed pouring a drink or unzipping a dress, technicians used the objects at the table to create sound effects. The result is an intensely audial experience, the unquestionable emphasis on hearing, as opposed to sight.
Except that’s not quite true. While the adaptation of “The Graduate” did not have normal sets and staging, its lack of visual material actually created an extremely interesting visual experience.
The show did have costumes and some props — a sheet, for instance — so it was not completely like a speech event, where business-attired high schoolers attempt to recreate a movie scene. Still, because the actors faced forward most of the time, I was forced to determine for myself where each character was supposed to be in the scene — for example, whether Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson were lying side-by-side in bed or facing each other from opposite ends of the room.
Reorganizing the concept of space in such a way allowed for a tremendous amount of innovation, both in terms of acting and staging. Sometimes the sound-effects people became part of the performance. For example, in a scene in which Mr. Robinson breaks down a door, actor Matthew Arkin was not holding an ax — but the sound-effects guy was. Sometimes the actors would break their own rule about facing forward, physically interacting with each other at just the right moment to add extra gravity (or comedy) to a scene. It’s an intelligent kind of theatre and theatre-watching, one that I found enjoyable and rewarding.
The show’s run ended Saturday, so there won’t be another opportunity to see “The Graduate” on campus. L.A. Theatre Works does, however, come to Notre Dame fairly often, so look for their next tour. In addition, Notre Dame seems to host a number of non-traditional shows — the recent performance of “As You Like It” at Washington Hall and the “Intergalactic Nemesis” series, a “live comic book” at DPAC, come to mind. So, in the absence of the play, go watch “The Graduate” movie if you haven’t seen it yet — it is hilarious. And keep an eye out for L.A. Theatre Works and all audio-based shows that will challenge and delight you. It’ll be worth your while.