The Segal Centre officially kicked off its 2014-15 season last Thursday with The Graduate. The play aims to be a fresh re-imagining of a young man going through an existential crisis after graduating from college in 1960s California. Despite some minor flaws, the play is was a stimulating production which confirmed the story of a ‘increasingly disillusioned’ generation has been going on long before millenials were ever taking selfies.
Video projection was used throughout the play for various reasons; setting the mood, marking the passing of time, to emphasize a dramatic moment. Sometimes it worked, such as setting psychedelic and groovy mood of the sixties. Most of the time, though, it felt completely unnecessary and even took away from crucial moments in the story.
In the climax of the film version of The Graduate, there’s several harsh zooms/cutaways to characters’ angry faces. The play attempted the same moment with video production, and it came off as silly. In the most important moment in the story, you could hear sounds of laughter in the audience.
The use of live musicians Justin Rutledge and Matthew Barber, meanwhile, was a much more welcome addition. These two gentlemen so embodied the spirit of Simon and Garfunkel (who created the soundtrack to the film) that during the play you swear you’re hearing songs from the famous folk duo you’ve never heard before.
But in fact Rutledge and Barber composed completely original, Simon and Garfunkel-inspired tunes for The Segal Centre adaptation of the story. It’s an ambitious idea that helps more than any video projection to set the mood and tone of the 60s, but full two-three minute versions of their songs did drag down the story at times. It would be interesting if they edited the songs to one minute with full, downloadable versions available for consumption afterwards.
In the film version of the story, Benjamin Braddock is without a doubt the star of the story. Onstage Luke Humphrey does more than an adequate job in the role of Benjamin.
In fact, with his good looks, obvious talent and Stratford Festival experience, Humphrey could easily go on to become a huge theater star in the future. But in this production it’s Brigitte Robinson in the role of Mrs. Robinson who steals the show. Portrayed with such bravery, anger and intense sexuality, the character of Mrs. Robinson becomes a more vicious and developed character than you’ve ever seen before.
In a way, this version of Mrs. Robinson makes the May-December affair that ignites the story more believable. Instead of seducing Ben simply out of boredom, it becomes a calculated act of revenge by an alcoholic trapped in a loveless marriage. Warning to parents: this is not a show you bring the kiddies to, as Mrs. Robinson literally bares all for the audience onstage.
The Graduate plays at The Segal Centre until September 21st, tickets available through segalcentre.org