Palo Alto Players presents The Graduate

Benjamin (Max Tachis) and Mrs. Robinson (Betsy Kruse Craig).
Photo credit: Joyce Goldschmid

“One word, Benjamin. PLASTICS.”

Palo Alto Players is currently presenting The Graduate, one of my favorite novellas by Charles Webb. Even for those who have never read the 1963 book by Charles Webb, or seen the film starring Dustin Hoffman, Mrs. Robinson’s stocking-ed leg is still an iconic image. The question here is can it work as a stage production?

Max Tachis inhabits Benjamin Braddock on stage as perfectly as young Dustin Hoffman did on film. I have seen the very talented Tachis in many shows now, and he was a large reason why I agreed to come review the show. There was absolutely no disappointment.

Betsy Kruse Craig plays boozy Mrs. Robinson and is just as sexy as Anne Bancroft. Her lines are delivered in a perfectly dry and deadpan manner, and she smoothly brings Mrs. Robinson from the unsatisfied alcoholic wife who finds a bit of fun with young Benjamin, to a deeply unlikable, caustic and resentful mother who is likely more jealous than protective of her daughter.

Mrs. Robinson (Betsy Kruse Craig) and Benjamin (Max Tachis).
Photo credit: Joyce Goldschmid

Raegena Raymond-Brunker plays Mrs. Braddock and was one of my favorites on Opening Night. Her looks of utter confusion and shrieks of surprise and despair made me laugh hysterically. She is entertaining every moment she is on stage and had me giggling constantly.

My guest’s favorite actor was Mark Novak who plays Mr. Robinson. He puts his all into the part, and his visceral outrage toward Benjamin was such that I was praying he wasn’t going to have a very real heart attack on stage. Kudos to you, Mark Novak, and please take care of your blood pressure when yelling at Benjamin – we want you around for future shows!

Special notice needs to be made for Karen M. Sanders, who plays the be-tasseled stripper. Her twirling breasts were a hilarious surprise when they appeared on stage and I applaud her courage and most especially, her talents.

These were my favorite performances, but all involved are talented and entertaining. I enjoyed the show immensely, and director Jeannie K. Smith has done a fantastic job. The stage design is on the simple side with quite a few changes to take us from Benjamin’s childhood bedroom to a hotel to a stripper bar to the iconic church scene, and the costume design very subtly but clearly mimics the film.

Mr. Braddock (Shawn Bender) asks why Benjamin (Max Tachis) isn’t coming downstairs to show off the diving suit, his graduation present. Photo credit: Joyce Goldschmid

Now we go back to the question: does it work as a stage production? My problem is that I cannot definitively state that the entire essence of the novella comes through on stage, especially regarding the social commentary and satire. The production hits most of the highlights of the book and film, but I am so familiar with the work that I’m not clear if someone unfamiliar with it would enjoy it as much as I did. I can confidently state that if you are familiar with The Graduate (novella or film) that you will enjoy seeing your favorite characters brought to life again on stage by these talented actors. If you are not familiar with the work, I’m going to err on the positive side and say to give it a try – the very worst that will happen is you’ll spend a couple hours in a nicely air conditioned theater.

The Graduate
Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theater
Through July 2, 2017

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