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Incline’s “Graduate” is the Top of the Class

Review by Laurel Humes of “The Graduate”: Incline Theatre

Let “The Graduate,” now onstage at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, take you back to the 1960s, when young people were rebelling and Simon/Garfunkel was the soundtrack of their lives.

Madison Pullins and Elliot Handkins in “The Graduate”

But “The Graduate” has a very specific, intimate story to tell. No hippies or war protesters here. Just two well-to-do families whose seemingly stable lives are upended by the choices they make.

Some background: “The Graduate” was first a novel, then a 1967 award-winning movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. In 2000, Terry Johnson used both versions to create the play, adding scenes neither in the book or movie.

While Incline Theater director Greg Proccacino warns that “you may see something a little different on stage,” the plot is the same.

New college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Elliot Handkins) is home for the summer. After a life of playing by the rules, he’s suffering an identity crisis, not interested in anything and bored by everything.

Perfect timing for his seduction by Mrs. Robinson (Marissa Poole), the wife of his father’s law partner. “You are the most attractive of all my parents’ friends,” Benjamin tells her. Mrs. Robinson, an alcoholic in a loveless marriage, is equally bored by her life, and the pair settle into an affair.

But then, coerced by his parents (“They’re going to take away my allowance!”), Benjamin goes on a date with the Robinsons’ daughter, Elaine (Madison Pullins). He falls obsessively in love with her.

His total focus on marrying Elaine – now we see the Benjamin who won trophies and scholarships – ends up with secrets revealed and already fragile families pulled apart.

The acting is very good, and Proccacino’s direction is brisk but nuanced in Incline Theater’s production. It must be stated that there is complete female nudity early in the show.

Handkins is so charismatic as Benjamin that while you know he’s a spoiled brat, you’re still sympathetic to his efforts to rebel against his smothering parents. The actor is at his best after the turning point in the play, his fixation on Elaine.

Pullins portrays Elaine as young, confused, in a complicated relationship with her parents, and not quite ready to defy them. “I don’t want to go against the world,” she tells Benjamin. One of Pullins’ strongest scenes, and the game-changer for Elaine, is hearing what Mrs. Robinson really thinks of her daughter.

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson: Marissa Poole is excellent. She is cool and manipulative to get what she wants from Benjamin, always in control. Poole’s best acting, though, comes after her character loses control of the situation and is forced to fight back in dramatic ways.

Benjamin’s parents (Brent Alan Burington and Torie Pate) at times seem caricatures, and the actors revel playing it over the top, for laughs. A hilarious scene is when parents and son visit a guru-like therapist for family counseling, balancing on bean-bag seats and speaking pyscho-babble. Mrs. Braddock’s plaintive cry ends the scene: “It’s always the mother’s fault!”

In the (supposedly happy) end, “The Graduate” is rather a sad play about people who appear to have everything – until we get a closer look.

“The Graduate”runs Wednesdays-Sundays through Feb. 10 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.