Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Graduate—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

“The Sounds of Silence”

This comedy-drama is based on the movie by Calder Willingham & Buck Henry and from the novel by Charles Webb and adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson.  It is directed by B&B’s Artistic Director, Scott Palmer, and runs at the Venetian Theater, 253 E. Main St. in Hillsboro, through October 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-345-9590.

Yes, that Graduate, from the movie of the late 60’s with Dustin Hoffman and directed by Mike Nichols, commenting on and encompassing the revolutionary 60’s.  It was a time for change…in music, drugs, wars, cultures, sex, politics and mores.  Much good would evolve from all of this but also a certain loneliness and desperation.  This story encapsulates some of that but lingers on the last two elements I’ve just mentioned.  An introduction to a brave, new, but alienated world.  Currently we are a by-product of that movement, a world where we cling to machines to guide our course and make our choices, instead of our natural senses!

The story, in a way, is simple, but not all that easy to explain.  A young man, Benjamin (Eric St. Cyr), has just recently been hatched from school and his wealthy parents, Mr. & Mrs. Braddock (Michael Rouches & Kim Bogus), with not a clue in the world as to who is or what he will do with his life.  He endeavors to branch out on his own and discover the world through the eyes of the common folk.  He lasts about two weeks on his own and then is back in his parents’ cocoon.

He learns about sex from his father’s best friend, Mr. Robinson’s (David Heath), wife (Kymberli Colbourne).  The Mrs. is a lush, cold, is not in love with her husband (but his money is a good compensator) and only got married because she was pregnant with their daughter, Elaine (Arianne Jacques), out of wedlock and in those days abortion was not an viable option.

Ben continues to meet clandestinely with her (for reasons not entirely clear) and then meets their daughter and they begin dating.  Ben pursues her (again, for reasons not entirely clear) without the approval of her Mom.  Ben is faced, not with crossroads in his life, but with dead-ends with nowhere else to go.  He is lost with no apparent purpose than to follow his blind instincts.

Eventually Elaine breaks it off and decides (for reasons not entirely clear…you’re beginning to see a pattern here, aren’t you?) to marry someone else.  But, in a climactic scene at their wedding, truths are revealed, people take stands and an uneasy alliance is forged.  The novel and this play are much darker than the film, as it was probably intended, with a message of alienation being a major theme.

A couple of players, part of their company, Andrew Beck and Cassie Greer, play a series of supporting characters that flesh out the story.  Beck is especially drool as a hotel clerk, in one of his many incarnations, and Greer has a very revealing part in which she is quite appealing.  The modular set by Megan Wilkerson is also a key player, being sterile and flexible, fitting the mood of the play.

And Palmer, as always, brings his genius to the stage, not only in his unusual choices for shows but in his clean and thoughtful presentations of the material, as he does here.  I would think he is too young to have lived through this era but, being the talented creator that he is, he certainly understands it artistically.

The acting, as always, is first-rate in his shows.  Bogus and Rouches as the distant parents are icily on the mark.  Heath, as the cuckold husband, is exciting to watch as he sputters and spouts his self-righteous, poseur indignations like a bantam rooster.  Jacques, a veteran of their shows, is always a treat onstage.  She gives depth, to what could have been just a throw-away role, by allowing us to see that she may be just as shallow and lost as Ben is.  “Blind leading the blind,” perhaps.

Colbourne as Mrs. Robinson is colder, more calculate and nastier than Bancroft was and she plays it as if she is very aware of who she is and the destruction she is causing and just doesn’t give a damn.  At times, there is a spark of regret, perhaps humanity, in her gyrations but, like a fading ember, it is quickly doused.  She’s terrific.  St. Cyr may not be Hoffman but more fully captures the intended character better.  His absent-minded approach to life is akin to a book waiting to be written upon but, in his case, it is in invisible ink.  In other words, he hasn’t a clue, which gives him an overall sadness.  He does a fine job of conveying a hitchhiker lost on a highway, with life whizzing by and no one to pick him up.

I recommend this play.  It does have brief nudity and sexual situations so be warned if that offends you.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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