Don Church and Tony Schillaci reviews for Examiner.com

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

The venerable Ivoryton Playhouse’s second offering of the 2012 season is “The Graduate.”  It is successfully adapted from the hit 1967 movie by Terry Johnson, and the story translates smoothly to the stage for contemporary adult audiences while remaining true to the spirit of the film.

A caveat in the program reads “there will be smoking and nudity in this show,” albeit those elements are in realistic doses, without being gratuitous.  The language is by today’s standards tame while still being explicit, so this is definitely not a play for the kiddies.

Judith Lightfoot Clarke as the alcoholic Mrs. Robinson and Luke Guldan as a naïve, confused Benjamin Braddock work so well together that once they first confront each other, alone on the stage, it’s almost possible to forget the original stars of the movie Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. The actors creatively interpret the characters anew, not in imitation of the acclaimed movie’s leads.

Ms. Clarke is physically perfect in the part and also brings an effective icy brittleness to Mrs. Robinson. Young Mr. Guldan, a superb actor and eye-candy scrumptious, gives Benjamin the necessary vulnerability and nervous sexual innocence while trying to impress his relentless seducer of a worldliness that is just transparent bravado. Theyconvincingly carry the show from start to final curtain. Brava and bravo to these two gifted and charismatic actors.

Peter Cormican, as the blustery Mr. Robinson, gets everything out of his characterization as Benjamin’s self-appointed career advisor and his daughterElaine’s protective father.  He convincingly goes from hale-fellow-well-met joviality to raging anger. It shows his broad-range from comedy to drama and he nearly walks away with the play as he fills the stage with his dynamic aura.

The stage set by Tina Louise Jones is minimalistic on first viewing, but soon reveals how cleverly designed it is for timely scene changes: a closet door here, a bathroom door there, a bed sliding out of the wall and venetian blinds representing morning and night, Ms. Jones allows the watcher to see beyond the stage and to imagine a downstairs party or an outdoor swimming pool.  The set is also quickly transformed into a strip club, a church, and a hotel room with effective use of simple shapes, colors and furnishings.

Lisa Marie Harry (Costume Design) and Joel Silvestro (Hair and Wigs) do justice to the kind-of-goofy styles of California 1964, and Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin look good both in and out of clothing.  Elaine’s outfits and Mrs. Braddock’s shift dresses are right on target.

Lighting by Marcus Abbot is mostly effective in serving both the comedic and the dramatic themes of the play, but in a scene between Benjamin and Elaine (Jess Brown), meant to be outside the club on a city street, their faces are unnecessarily often in shadow that doesn’t well serve the actors.

To create the ideal mood for scenes, the play opens with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” and other music associated with the film production, including the chart-busting, international hit single, “Mrs. Robinson.”

Tate R. Burmeister keeps the sound of the Simon and Garfunkel score almost perfectly in sync with the action onstage.  The only time in which the music drowns out the dialogue is in a strip club scene. Tweaking the music to a lower volume would help the audience to fully comprehend the important exchange between Benjamin and Elaine.

Director Lawrence Thelen guides the mainly Actor’s Equity cast skillfully through the comedy, with only Benjamin’s Dad and Mom (Rik Walter and Victoria Bundonis) in need of more guidance to fully round out the comic aspects of their respective characters. Their caring but uptight and boring socially-correct parents of the 1960s need to get a few more laughs in counterpoint to the angst of their son, Benjamin.

Heather Gault, Jeffrey F. Wright II and Todd Little do excellent double and triple duty in numerous but less-than-large roles. As it has been stated for decades, there are no small parts in the theater and these three actors prove the point by never breaking character in their various guises on stage.

Those who have seen the movie may think that there isn’t a reason to see the play.  But this fast-paced, up-dated take on the story of “The Graduate” is fresh, funny and uninhibited for the sensibility of today’s adult audience.

Before we saw it in previews we thought that it might be ‘too risqué’ for the regular Ivoryton subscribers.  But we needn’t have been concerned – the audience seemed to have loved it.  Judge for yourself between now and May 8th by calling 860-767-7318 or logging on to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, CT.

After the show we raised our glasses and sang “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson!”

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“THE GRADUATE” COMES OF AGE IN IVORYTON
BONNIE GOLDBERG – MIDDLETOWN PRESS 

The classic coming-of-age movie “The Graduate” is enjoying a reincarnation from the novel to the stage, thanks to writers Calder Willingham and Buck Henry.  Until Sunday, May 6, the Ivoryton Playhouse will be “revealing” how Benjamin Braddock who should be ecstatic about completing four years of college at the top of his class and celebrating his achievements with his family and friends at a party in his honor is, instead, hiding in his bedroom, filled to the max with anxieties and insecurities.

Luke Guldan is wonderful as the angst-driven Ben, whose promising future everyone sees as golden except himself.  At this vulnerable junction in life, when he just has to select which perfectly paved road to pursue, there enters temptation in the form of Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his dad’s law partner.

Luke Guldan’s Benjamin is deliciously ripe for the picking and the older and wiser Mrs. Robinson has selected him for her treat of the month club.  First Judith Lightfoot Clarke’s Mrs. R. shocks him and then tantalizes and entices him to play her little game of seduction.

While his parents (Rik Walter and Victoria Bundonis) wait patiently for Ben to show signs of maturity, ambition and direction, he wanders farther and farther from any path of promise. When his dad and Mr. Robinson (Peter Cormican) contrive to have Ben date Elaine Robinson, a sweet and idealistic Jess Brown, who is home from Berkeley, the illicit deeds become fodder for a first class family feud.  To complicate an already “grotesque” situation. Ben and Elaine find themselves having real feelings for each other.

Completing the cast are Heather Gault as a stripper and bridesmaid, Jeffrey F. Wright II as a hotel clerk and groom and Todd Little as a priest and bartender.  Lawrence Thelen keeps a steady hand on the delicate balance of comedy and drama that drives the story.

For tickets ($40, seniors $35, students $20, children $15), call the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.  Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

For an education in seduction, look no further than master teacher Mrs. Robinson, whose classroom to date only has one willing student, Benjamin Braddock, enrolled.

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