BANGOR — Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman are hard acts to follow. But A.J. Mooney and Alekzander Sayers, who play the iconic roles of cougar housewife Mrs. Robinson and rudderless, young college graduate Benjamin Braddock in the Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of “The Graduate,” do their damndest to put their own mark on these characters — including (pardon the reference to another show) going the full Monty.
And, for the most part, they succeed.
Mooney is especially effective, playing the middle-aged seductress with all the manipulative weltschmerz the role demands. In addition to revealing every inch of her body, Mooney also gives us an occasional peep at what lies beneath the plates of protective armor that have built up over two decades of boredom and marital disappointment. It takes no real stretch of the imagination to see why a young man brimming with hormones and angst would succumb to her considerable, if cool, charms.
As Benjamin, Sayers — who one can easily imagine in a Yale Class of ’64 graduation photo with George W. Bush — does well conveying Benjamin’s sense of complete alienation from his silly, vacuous parents (excellently played by D.C. Anderson and Jeri Misler) and their status-seeking, materialistic L.A. lifestyle.
His expensive college education has apparently taught Benjamin what he does not want to become, but he hasn’t figured out an alternative yet. A dalliance with his father’s business partner’s wife seems like as good a way as any to spend his time while figuring it out.
While Sayers is adorably gawky and baby-faced, he lacks the dark and slightly dangerous edge Hoffman brought to the role — that bad boy thing that Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine and every other woman in the movie- going world found so irresistible.
In the movie, Katherine Ross managed to make herself pretty irresistible as well, despite the sketchily written role of Elaine, who Benjamin, in the process of trying to scare off, falls in love with, oops!
Kelly Davies certainly looks fetching as Elaine and in the play her character is slightly more fleshed out. But she needs to find varying ways of expressing anger, frustration and or confusion — which Elaine experiences often — than by simply raising the volume and pitch of her voice. She is, after all, a Robinson woman; a little smoldering might be in order here.
Arthur Morison does fine work as Elaine’s cuckolded dad, who first advises Benjamin that the key to life is “plastics” and then, understandably, tries to clean his clock when he learns of the affair with his wife, followed by the stalking of his daughter.
In a small role, Jenny Hart is entirely convincing (I suppose this is a good thing?) as the stripper who humiliates Elaine on her first date with Benjamin.
The play’s odd ending takes us past the moment in the movie when the two young people have escaped by bus from a wedding. They are both excited and bewildered by what has just happened, and the road ahead is completely uncharted.
Without giving it away, and without knowing if this is what the playwright, Terry Johnson, intended, this new ending gives one the niggling sense that Mrs. Robinson’s cruel parting words to the absconding couple, “You will probably bore each other to death,” just might be a prophesy.
Bari Newport’s direction is lively and fast-paced highlighting well some special moments from the movie. She also has including the wonderfully evocative Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. Set designer Sean McClelland’s Mid-century modernist set is simply gorgeous with set changes as seamless as a sleight of hand.
While I was not quite so smitten, the Wednesday night audience gave the performance a standing ovation. Perhaps I was just playing hard to get?
“The Graduate” will be performed at the Bangor Opera House at 8 p.m. Sept. 14-15, at 3 p.m. Sept. 15-16, at 7 p.m. Sept. 19-20, at 8 p.m. Sept. 21-22 and at 3 p.m. Sept. 23. To reserve seats, call 942-3333 and visit www.penobscottheatre.org.