For Benjamin Braddock, the only thing more difficult than taking off a scuba suit is falling for a girl after you’ve bedded her mother… more than a few times.
With the familiar sounds of Simon and Garfunkel wafting in the background, Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center recently wrapped up its run of Terry Johnson’s The Graduate.
Nervous and bumbling (and closely reminiscent of a young Dustin Hoffman) Vincent Carbone plays Benjamin, a recent college graduate who is unsure of his next move in life. It’s so relative how his parents manage to wear two different sets of blinders -- Barbara Jo Howard as his mom (love the beehive!) is protective and can’t seem to shake that he’s no longer a little boy, while John Tramontana teeters between worrying about impressing his friends and handing over a wad of cash so Benjamin can go off and find himself. In his short time back at home, Benjamin has come to realize that his own pursuits may not mirror his parent’s definition of success nor the world in which he belongs, and it has left him completely unhinged.
And he’s not the only one.
Mrs. Robinson (“the most attractive friend of [his] parents’”) is a self-proclaimed alcoholic who is never without a tumbler in her hand. Feeling more affection for her beverages than her own family, the stunning and smoky-voiced Brooke Alexander towers over the stage with her sultriness in kitten heels. Despite certain deprivations in her character’s life, Alexander breathes such ease and coolness into Mrs. Robinson. Benjamin’s desire to make some sort of decision in his life and Mrs. Robinson’s need to embrace her youth unexpectedly bring the two together.
But instead of finding what they need, they end up in a bigger mess than what they started with.
The audience comes to realize there is no certainty in life even when you were the Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper and tied for first in class rankings. The same can be true for the well-to-do attractive woman with a successful husband and ambitious daughter. Throughout the production, directed in a timeless fashion by Michael Disher, the cast does a fine job of balancing the humor and the drama of these intertwining storylines.
Bethany Dellapolla brings great depth to her role as Elaine Robinson, a Berkeley student who is clearly passionate about life and her role in it. Dellapolla is constantly bubbly and enthusiastic, a foil to her mother and a step ahead of what Benjamin wants to be. You mustn't be fooled by her happy-go-lucky nature. Elaine is equally feisty and knows when to be defiant. Stewart Mead was also unassumingly entertaining in multiple smaller roles throughout the show. (Anyone who can go from buying a lap dance to running a wedding ceremony deserves major props!)
While the relationship between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson was limited to hotel rooms, the banter between the two was well-timed and natural. Benjamin’s nervousness and inexperience were the perfect match for Mrs. Robinson’s confidence and allure. The play actually works hard to bring out the opposites between these different couples – the Braddocks, the Robinsons, and later, Elaine and Benjamin. The chemistry in this production is more about the way couples work and interact with one another, and isn’t reliant on the sexual spark. Even when Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson get together it’s more out of need than pure passion.
With a set that incorporates a series of doors and paneling that brilliantly captures silhouettes in some well-done lighting, The Graduate has the feel of a perfectly pieced together production that never tries to dazzle more than it should. Even within the confines of a legendary story, that cast works diligently to make it their own. In its 5th year of presenting thoughtful and innovative theater, Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Arts Center proves that simplicity and believing in your play’s material only enhances the audience’s enjoyment.
Mark your calendars for Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Arts Center's (25 Ponds Lane, Southampton, NY) upcoming production of INHERIT THE WIND, playing from October 11 through October 28. For more information, please visit their website or their Facebook page. (Auditions will be held on August 22 and August 23.)