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The Graduate

The bland are leading the bland in the touring edition of "The Graduate," as an already colorless stage transcription of a classic movie is rendered yea more so by the dimmed star wattage of current topliners Jerry Hall and Rider Storm. One would suggest each go back to their day jobs, but that would be cruel -- they don't have them anymore.

The bland are leading the bland in the touring edition of “The Graduate,” as an already colorless stage transcription of a classic movie is rendered yea more so by the dimmed star wattage of current topliners Jerry Hall and Rider Storm. She is, of course, famous as the former Mrs. Jagger. He is, we are told, famous for playing a subsidiary youth on now defunct ABC sitcom “Boy Meets World.” One would suggest each go back to their day jobs, but that would be cruel — they don’t have them anymore.

She is just nearly adequate and he is much worse. However, the pervasive mediocrity that will pain actual theater-lovers here won’t likely trouble the audience majority. Like a theatrical form of karaoke, “The Graduate” needn’t be good; it just has to remind people of something familiar and pleasing. Something which, one hopes, they recall rather dimly.

Poor memory of the 1967 Mike Nichols-directed film — which hasn’t aged brilliantly but arrived at the perfect moment to define and romanticize a whole American generation’s sense of “gap” from the previous one — can only help. Taking the awfully simple raw material of Charles Webb’s novel, Nichols, his scenarists and some astutely cast actors made the story seem far more ambivalent, resonant and distinctive than it might’ve been in other hands.

The film flattered its original audience’s disenchantment with their parents’ “establishment,” their desire for something “more.” Yet in retrospect, what people most remember is not the general melancholy tone, but the high sexual comedy of early scenes involving Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson — suburban bourgeois royalty incarnated as predatory hypocrite.

Ergo adapter Terry Johnson (also the original’s stage director, with Peter Lawrence now helming) gives the folks want they think they want, turning “The Graduate” into wholesale broad comedy. The famous lines remain; Mrs. R. and Elaine’s roles have been expanded, as unimaginatively as possible. The “new” scenes are just awful (notably that mother-daughter drunk act, and the young couple’s motel-room aftermath to a coarsely protracted wedding interruptus). Still, they faithfully satisfy expectations of viewers who by now remember the film only in highlight flashes.

Hall tosses her glossy blonde mane around like a runway champ, and looks very toned in her brief, backlit nudity. But her public persona as flaky-vulgar, all-American looker and good sport in the hyenas’ den of career celebrity is irrelevant to Mrs. Robinson. She lacks the authority that Bancroft used to make Mrs. R at once bullishly funny, erotic and repellent. Nor does she have the technique to command our enjoyment of pure star self-satisfaction, a la Kathleen Turner.

Still, she’s in such weak company here that reasonable poise can pass for presence by comparison. Of Rider Strong, one can only lament that his porn-star name exacerbates puny evidence of talent. Already 30 when he got his breakout role, Dustin Hoffman played idiosyncratic riffs on the very notion of ordinariness. Where he subtly exaggerated Benjamin’s wannabe-grownup insecurity to a stylized, satirical/wistful degree, Storm offers a banal brat, with scant comic finesse and no grasp on the period milieu whatsoever.

Ingenue Elaine has been a thankless part through its entire multimedia history. Johnson made matters worse by presuming Sandra Dee to be the era’s young-female icon, a vision Devon Sorvari strenuously hews to. With she and Strong cutely yelping at each other in tortuous act two stretches, the evening’s truest line becomes Mrs. R’s cynical aside to panicked Mr. R, “Leave them alone and they’ll bore one another to death.” Perhaps most bizarre amongst this “Graduate’s” creative wrong turns is the way it manages — wholly unintentionally — to turn the film’s final, poignant sense of unresolved escape into a terrible mistake made by two terminally immature kids.

The program mysteriously sets the action in 1963, a rewind that makes no sense on any level — especially since the production keeps fast-forwarding regardless. (There’s a ponytailed male bartender and a therapist who sits lotus-style on a beanbag chair, not to mention excerpted Flower Power songs on top of patented Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack originals.) Rob Howell’s costumes are dull, his beige-closet-door-motifed sets ditto apart from one scene’s witty etching of the horribly moderne Robinson living room.

The Graduate

Curran Theater, San Francisco; 1,665 seats; $75

  • Production: A Jon B. Platt, Nancy Rose and Susan Rose presentation of a play in two acts by Terry Johnson, based on the novel by Charles Webb and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. Directed by Peter Lawrence.
  • Crew: Original production directed by Terry Johnson. Sets and costumes, Rob Howell; lighting, Hugh Vanstone; sound designer, Christopher Cronin; hair and makeup, Naomi Donne; songs, Paul Simon, performed by Simon & Garfunkel; additional music and songs, Barrington Pheloung and original artists; casting, Stuart Howard, Amy Schecter; technical supervisor, Gene O'Donovan. Opened, reviewed Aug. 21, 2003. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.
  • Cast: Benjamin Braddock - Rider Strong Mr. Braddock - William Hill Mr. Robinson - Dennis Parlato Mrs. Braddock - Kate Skinner Mrs. Robinson - Jerry Hall Hotel Clerk/Psychiatrist/ Bar Patron - John Leonard Thompson Assistant Desk Clerk - Winslow Corbett Bellhop/Man in Bar - Nathan Corddry Elaine Robinson - Devon Sorvari Bartender/Priest/ Motel Manager - Tracy Griswold Stripper - Corinna May
  • Music By: