Saturday, March 23, 2002

THE GRADUATE was an interesting experience...we had rush tickets, so we were seated very close to the stage, which is interesting in such a huge house that has been optimized for the viewing of 1000+ people in a gigantic space. I was amazed, even with all my training, at how voices can project and carry--people weren't shouting at us at the distance we were at, but they filled the house. It's nice to see skills like that beingt put to work.

(Now I'll put on my theater critic hat.)

The set is a very interesting door motif, which captures the blandness of suburban living but makes it smart and spicy as well. There are some nice touches, and the transition pieces played downstage worked particularly well. There are also some lovely lighting choices, though some of the scenes turn out a tad dark for my taste, leaning on atmospherics rather than clarity.

The acting was good, but never exceptional...Kathleen Turner is a lot less "Body Heat" in this and a lot more "Battleship Potempkin" can really feel how mean she is, and the alcoholism is emphasized in the stage version. Her sexiness is not a strong factor, which makes the affair more dark and loathesome than the film's. Alicia Silverstone has a weird role that she does what she can with, but she seems to mostly vacillate between prepubescent child and idealistic nitwit--not her fault, really, as that's mainly what's written.

Jason Biggs has the hardest row to hoe. The main character of THE GRADUATE was so iconically captured by Dustin Hoffman in the film version that Biggs has an awful lot to live up to, and he just can't achieve it. I'm not certain who could, as the film allows certain intimacies that make the listless desperation of a lost young man much easier to communicate. In the second half he really picks up, after he finally has the objective of wooing the girl.

The weirdest element by far is the choice to end the play in a far different place than the movie. I don't know all the reasons they've done this...ending on a bus would be hard in a stage space, it wouldn't allow Kathleen Turner a big ending speech and it simply might come off in a TERRIBLE way on stage.

Instead they've completely re-envisioned the ending, using material from the original book perhaps, and while it is serviceable and might work it tastes very strange. Instead of being left with two people on a bus who may or may not have anything in common we get more pat and trite Hollywood resolutions--still barbed, but clear choices. That's the opposite of the film version, and in my mind was the film's greatest strength.

The new ending has some weight to it--it's not a total disaster. But by removing what mystery was central to the movie it distorts its source material instead of creating something fresh, and while it will be interesting to people who've seen the movie, it feels ultimately false.

(Theater critic hat off.)

So, not a total loss, and I'm certain with these stars and this name the play will do alright even if the critics savage it. It's not terrible by any length, but get rush's not worth full price.