Arts & Culture

Into the late 60s with Mrs. Robinson

Pinky Marquez  as Mrs. Robinson and Reb Atadero Benjamin BraddockBy PABLO A. TARIMAN

REPERTORY Philippines’ latest offering – “The Graduate” — is a nostalgic journey into the late 60s which was the same decade the young were hooked on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson,” among others.

The play was of course the title of a 1967 Mike Nichols film starring Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson. It is originally the title of a 1963 novel by Charles Webb and adapted into the stage by Terry Johnson.

The film was of course touted as “one of the most powerful stories of sexual awakening and coming-of-age” and it happened on the decade of the country’s political awakening as it gave way to the birth of the First Quarter Storm.

The film was shown in a theater along Recto Avenue where — as anyone growing up in that decade knew — was also the avenue where lewd publications of “bedtime stories” hastened the sexual awakening of college kids of the late 60s.

A theater piece adapted from a popular film runs the risk of being compared to its film version which – owing to its popularity — has virtually acquired cult status. No one can outshine Dustin Hoffman Benjamin Braddock and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson.

But trust Repertory Philippines to come up with a theatrical piece just as sensitive and engrossing as the film version.

The Graduate posterSuperbly directed by Jaime del Mundo who also acted as Mr. Braddock, Repertory Philippines’ “The Graduate” has many things going for it.

For one, the versatile Mio Infante set allowed the audience to watch the bed scene from a distance and yet allowing them up close with the characters as they figured in various confrontation scenes.

With the popular Simon & Garfunkel song opening and closing every scene, there was no way you could escape the fact that you were watching the sexual mores and inhibitions of the 60s.

The new graduate (Reb Atadero as Benjamin Braddock) finds the business partners of his parents (Mr. and Mrs. Braddock played by Del Mundo and Angela Padilla) a grotesque lot and would rather explore the post-graduate world on his own. But the Robinsons are indeed a grotesque couple. Mr. Robinson (Jeremy Domingo) keeps dangling the “plastics” business into the graduate’s ear and to top it all, Mrs. Robinson (played by Pinky Marquez) has turned into a professional seductress while coping with a marriage that was obviously not made in heaven.

After being given a free preview of the female anatomy by Mrs. Robinson (Marquez),  Benjamin Braddock (Atadero) became restless and soon, the affair started and ended just in time for the young man to realize that sex wasn’t everything. He ended up falling in love with the Robinson daughter, Elaine sensitively played by Cara Barredo.

When the young man had outlived the lure of sex and realizing there was more to a relationship than sex, he of course got into more trouble.

The reason one forgot all about the film version was because of the excellent acting ensemble composed of the Del Mundo and Padilla (as the Braddocks),  Domingo and Marquez as the Robinsons and the versatile actor Joel Trinidad as hotel clerk, bar tender, psychiatrist and priest.

If you had not seen a female stripper in a long, long time, Natalie Everett, doing the part, was indeed the 60s déjà vu of nude entertainers doing the round in Cubao and Santa Mesa in the 60s (but of course she did the US version).

Atadero as Benjamin Braddock has both the innocence (and the rebel streaks) of one born in the 60s. From the way he covered his body when Mrs. Robinson (Marquez) entered the room without notice, you could see the inhibition of the youth of the 60s (and his soon-to-be developed double standards). Atadero has given the part a new fresh look making the role both sensitive and hilarious.

Dustin Hoffman being seduced by Anne Bancroft in The  Graduate 1967 filmAs for Marquez as Mrs. Robinson, she definitely got to the essence of the role.

Bored by marriage and with her only daughter as her sole emotional refuge, she turns to seduction as a way out from a loveless marriage. She is cold on one hand and calculating on the other. She cases her object of seduction without a proper introduction and totally nude at last before a wide-eyed Benjamin Braddock, Marquez made the part her own. She was so focused on the part no one gasped (at least one didn’t hear one) when she turned totally naked before a young man’s eyes.

“The Graduate” has of course given way to other variations namely “Butterflies Are Free” and lately on local television, “Pahiram ng Sandali” starring Lorna Tolentino and Dingdong Dantes.

And so the endless tale of initiation of Mrs. Robinson goes on.