Chances are you’ve seen the seminal sixties film, if you haven’t you should. It’s the film that made Dustin Hoffman a star and helped cement Anne Bancroft as the ultimate seductress. In 2007, the American Film Institute’s (AFI) ranked The Graduate as #17 in a list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time.
Its story deals with a recent college graduate, Benajmin Braddock, returning home with no defined goals in life. He becomes embroiled in an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner, but soon finds himself in love with her daughter, Elaine. Released at the end of 1967, the film became one of the ever-lasting memories of the sixties.
The Eagle Theatre in Hammonton will bring The Graduate on the stage May 29 through June 27. New Jersey Stage spoke with Ted Wioncek III, The Eagle’s Co-Artistic Director about the production.
What was it about The Graduate that attracted you? The timelessness of the question “Now what?” The title is simple. In honor of our angst-ridden protagonist, full of bitter glee, The Graduate, alludes to Benjamin and his recent achievements of academia. However, one could suspect that the namesake has more to do with a valuable lesson yet to be learned. Equal parts fit as a fiddle and floundering, rather than stretch his mind, Ben stretches his limbs onto that of another, closing the bedroom door on his promising future. Steeped in cathartic peace, wallowing in self-pity, our dime store Romeo is left asking the inevitable… NOW WHAT? We have created a setting that exemplifies an age in which one can afford to stand still, mystified by the world that revolves around him. Hubristic and morose, filled with disillusions of grandeur, this is the sliver of time we glorify with bitter envy, commonly known as youth. Youth and achievement come with weighted responsibility; an impending expectation for one to seize each and every opportunity presented with blind gaiety and naiveté. Fate plays a cruel hand, knocking upon doors of the young. Despite how bright and promising the light may peer from behind the slat, it takes a gentle and poetic force to convince the sardonic at heart to open up, invite her in and keep the door ajar. Ben enters our play as the graduate, indeed. However, it is not until we reach the final cue that he successfully completes his course of study, equipped to grasp the moral of his own story.
…NOW WHAT? Live.
The film was one of those significant markers of a generation. How does the story hold up decades later? Does it still seem relevant or has it become a bit of a nostalgic piece? The story holds up because the theme is universal and timeless. However, we do make a concerted effort to pay homage to the 1960’s while keeping the overall tone relevant for a modern audience. We have incorporated a great deal of time period appropriate music, and kept an eye on the fashion.
How does the presentation on stage change the feeling from the original film? The sardonic tonality of the film is captured in the stage adaptation. We conceptualized our physical surroundings a bit, but if anything I believe the stage has provided a more in depth look inside the world of these fascinating characters.
Who is in the cast? The play stars Rachel Brodeur, Mike Dorsey, Lori-Nan Engler, Jonathan Fink, Deedee Mann, David Nikolas, and Paul Weagraff. Every member of The Graduate cast is an Eagle Theatre veteran, save for one... Mrs. Robinson. I had the pleasure of directing Lori Nan-Engler in a previous production of The Graduate. Neither of us tent to return to projects after we’ve put them to rest. However, it appears we were destined to give this irresistible tale another spin.
When do you generally announce the next season? Any hints? We plan to announce our 2016 Season in the summer. Be on the lookout for Sondheim, a new side of Wilder and the professional regional area premiere of Heathers.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.