Apr 18, 2013

[Theater] The Graduate (Repertory Philippines

This year Tobie and I had experimented with getting season tickets for Repertory Philippines. That meants that we got somewhat discounted rates in exchange for committing to watch all three shows of Repertory's regular season. And the experience has certainly been interesting with the two other shows Boeing Boeing and No Way to Treat a Lady.

Now I have to admit that I originally committed to the season tickets because of this play - The Graduate. And the big reason was that it was originally advertised to feature Cherie Gil in the infamous role of Mrs. Robinson. But one thing led to another and there was a casting change before the show could even start rehearsals and so Tobie and I ended up with tickets to the show but with a different actress.

Still, the show must go on and so did we and the end result wasn't that bad. There was the minor issue of both of us inevitably imagining what the play would have been like had Cherie Gil pushed through with her performance, but for the most part we tried to stay focused on the actual cast in order to come to a more informed decision about it.

Synopsis: The Graduate is a stage play based on the novel by Charles Webb. The original play had been adapted by Terry Johnson and this staging by Repertory Philippines was directed by Jaime Del Mundo. It ran at Greenbelt's Onstage theater from April 5-28, 2013.

The story begins with young Benjamin Braddock (Reb Atadero), a fresh grad with his whole life ahead of him. But he himself has no idea what he wants to do with his life - although his overeager parents (Jaime del Mundo and Angela Padilla) are more than ready to offer their suggestions as to what he should do next. He's quite the golden boy with so many possibilities just waiting to be tapped - if he can ever find the nerve to choose a path for himself.

But he is surprised by Mrs. Robinson (Pinky Marquez) entering his room "accidentally" while she was looking for the spare room. In time it's clear that she wants more than just a place to rest given she essentially throws herself at young Ben. He narrowly escapes needing to decide how to respond to her advances when he announces to his parents that he's going on a bit of a soul-searching journey in order to meet some "real" people". But soon enough he's back home without a plan or any sense of ambition and the lingering memory of Mrs. Robinson's offer.

The first thing that strikes you about the production is the decision to essentially set the whole play in Ben's bedroom. Sure, the panel open this way and that and changes in the location of the bed on the stage together with the odd prop helps transform the room into a hotel room and even a stripper bar. The set had a lot of potential but I think the challenges of the design affected their ability to light it well - a common problem in local productions. Bold set design is wasted without sufficiently good lighting.

On the flip side, the actors in the production were certainly talented. Reb Atadero made for a most interesting lead and was very committed to his role all throughout. I wish everyone had been performing at the same level of energy so as not to waste his efforts. Pinky Marquez was respectable in her performance as Mrs. Robinson, but I guess at times I hoped she had a bit more presence or impact.

While the acting was pretty good, both Tobie and I felt that the direction could have used more focus. In the program for the show, the director described the play as a comedy. However no one really laughed during the show. And that was because of the challenge of this being both a comedy and a drama at the same time - which is never any easy balance to attain. And while at times there were comedic moments, the overall seriousness of the story made it feel a little awkward to laugh or not. Even as black comedies go, this was still a lot more on the heavy serious side as opposed to dancing between comedy and drama.

And we didn't quite understand the direction to use pre-recorded tracks of Reb Atadero singing the various songs associated with the production in this somber a capella mode. That only added to the efforts of presenting everything as a serious drama. At times it felt more awkward than anything as we got through the singing, which was done in an emotional and thus less pitch perfect manner.

What we needed was inherent "permission" from the director to laugh. And this can only really be achieved through certain acting signals or even musical cues. But limiting all the music to the interludes between scenes severely limited its benefits to the show as a whole.

The Graduate was a decent enough show, but could have been done a lot better. And I feel this sums up my overall experience with Repertory Philippines thus far this season -  a lot of decent shows with a lot of potential but not quite enough follow-through to make it really amazing. So I can only rate this show as 2.5 moments when Benjamin laughs and has his knees awkwardly up in the air out of a possible 5.

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