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Have we seduced you yet? Director ruminates on “The Graduate”

Notes on the upcoming production from the director Joe Stallone

“Plastics.”

“Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me.”

Two of the most iconic phrases in American popular culture. The Graduate is iconic, known mostly as the 1967 movie directed by Mike Nichols. The movie was an adaptation of the 1963 short novel by Charles Webb. And in 2002, both were interpolated into a stage play by Terry Johnson. Still today, its iconic words and images persist. What makes it so? Why does it continue to capture our minds and souls, and continue to have an impact on audiences?

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Director Joe Stallone

THE PLAY

The Graduate examines shifts in values and the split in society which was just being conceived when the novel was written and was entering in its rebellious adolescence when the movie was made. The younger generation was attempting to establish itself as the new establishment. This generational shift in consciousness and outlook on our world and our lives, this time of uncertainty, disorientation, and alienation was being felt and processed by an entire generation.

We see Benjamin struggling in his attempt to find his place in the adult world; he is “worried about my future.” There is a sense of fired-up generational rebellion, rejecting the deadening materialism of his parents, feeling trapped, alienated, and disoriented (he’s in a scuba suit in the opening scene), afraid of ending up with a hollow middle-class future. Ironically, Benjamin’s future looks bright to everyone but him. The new guard was looking toward love and idealism, triumph over corruption and conformity. Young people were trying to break through to lead the way to social, political and cultural transformation. And it plays out in a fierce battle of wills.

And what of Mrs. Robinson?

Yes, she is trying to seduce young Benjamin – and she succeeds. And she interferes with Benjamin’s search to find his way and his place in the world after graduation from a prestigious eastern college. She is an obstacle, and he gives in; she is his parents’ world, and he is seduced and taken in before he actually knows what’s happening. He becomes even more disoriented and uncertain, especially after he falls in love with and pursues Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine. The dichotomy is not quite clear, however.

The younger Elaine intends to marry well and forever, have a comfortable, typical life as wife and mother with well-educated, normal Carl. Her mother, on the other hand, has always been a free spirit, bucking the norm and going her own way – or at least trying to.

Benjamin and Elaine seem to be ill-matched. Elaine is optimistic, if not a tad naive (“I love my life”) while Benjamin is “morose,” negative and dismal (“My life is bullshit.”) She wants nothing to do with him, and yet he pursues her. The question is, who is transformed? Or are they both? When they bolt from the church, we see in action, on a personal level, the fired-up generational rebellion.

From our vantage point in 2016 – or even in 2002 when the play was written – we know how the story turns out, and we know how things in the world changed, and how they didn’t. I believe we are seeing yet another cultural transformation beginning even now.

This is not new in the world, nor is it likely ever to stop. And so it continues, and so The Graduate continues to have import and impact, to be old and known while at the same time giving pause to consider if there is something else, something new and better – and is it worth creating? Is the birth of a new societal outlook needed? Is it worth the struggle, or am I content with how things are? What does my future hold – what could it hold? What am I up against, and can I/will I find my way out of the fog?

The questions remain the same, but perhaps with different obstacles, different fogs.

Buy tickets.

PERFORMANCE DATES

Friday, May 12 at 8 PM
Saturday, May 13 at 8 PM
Thursday, May 18 at 7:30 PM
Friday, May 19 at 8 PM
Saturday, May 20 at 8 PM
Sunday, May 21 at 4 PM

No show Sunday, May 14 due to Mother’s Day.

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