The Graduate - A Perfect ValentineThursday, April 21, 2011
Yesterday Wednesday my granddaughter Rebecca (13) and I went to the opening performance of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Terry Johnson’s adaptation of the The Graduate, on the Granville Island Stage. I hope you will forgive my long winded meander until I finally get to it in the 8th paragraph!
To make things clear I never read the 1963 novel by Charles Webb nor have I ever met anybody who has. For most of us the The Graduate is the 1967 Mike Nichols film with a young Dustin Hoffman, and with Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross. It is indelibly etched into my mind. I can never forget Dustin Hoffman (as Ben Braddock driving that Alfa Romeo Spider (I remember it as green) on a California freeway to the sounds of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence. And while I always thought Anne Bancroft was very attractive and desirable the scene besides the Alfa Romeo Spider that I remember the most is when Ben grabs and saves Elaine Robinson from the clutches of her groom at church and both (Ben and Elaine, in her wedding dress), end up in the back of a bus.
I had second thoughts of going to a play that just might burst the wonderful bubble in my head. It became worse when my Rebecca asked me to explain the film and I grew confused if I had seen it in the 60s or 70s.
Before the play began I ran into a friend who happens to be a theatre director. I asked the director on the plan of the need for playing Simon & Garfunkel’s music within the play. The director told me, “If I were the director I would certainly do that.”
That was not the case and while I was a bit disappointed I will explain how the disappointment shifted to a clear case of wonder and delight!
Years ago I used to write book reviews for Celia Duthie’s The Reader. This was a handsome little booklet/magazine that featured pleasant reviews to somewhat lofty novels of a certain intellectual chic. I remember fondly her intelligent request, “ Try to pick a book you think you will like.” I always took her advice since I am not the type of person who will review a book with cynicism and sarcasm. The world has enough of it.
At the same time I know that being an amateur reviewer I will still abide to my principle. My model is the now retired but not forgotten Vancouver Sun film critic Les Wedman who always seemed to find relevance and saving grace in almost any film he ever reviewed. He loved and loves movies and this showed in his reviews.
Which brings me now to the Arts Club Theatre production of The Graduate. I could have been disappointed, after all there was no way the local group Ivory Sky in their especially composed music for the play could possibly bury my desire to listen to Simon & Garfunkel. I am pretty sure that getting the rights to use Simon & Garfunkel would have been prohibitive.
After years of sitting near the man with the pencil and pad who reviewed theatre, Jerry Wasserman, I am happy to report that he is just as good without his pencil and pad and can even be quite handsome in a tux, which he was.
The rest of the cast, Lisa Bunting (as Mrs. Braddock), Bill Dow (as Mr. Braddock), Jacqueline Breakwell (adequate, and adequately twirled her breasts, as the stripper, but much too young to remember as I do, Princess Lilly who was a hearing impaired stripper in Vancouver in the 60s, 70s and 80s could make one breast twirl in one direction and the other breast direction in a contrary manner while having lit matches in her nipples), Ashley O”Connell as various and Kayvon Khoshkam (as Benjamin Braddock and my granddaughter immediately commented, “He looks like Robert Downey Jr.) were as professional as was to be expected coming from the Arts Club Theatre Company.
I thought that Camille Mitchell as Mrs. Robinson was almost good enough to tempt me away from plastics but I must confirm here that I fell hard, head over heals for the marvelous Celine Stubel as Elaine Robinson.
Her performance with that Deborah Kerrish hesitancy in her voice and her almost virginal approach charmed me and made Benjamin’s falling for her a reality for me. For me the play worked here because of Stubel.
I have always been a fan of Lois Anderson as perhaps the best actress in town but I am not yet sure I can spot her hand when she directs. This play might change my mind!
My first question is to find out if indeed she was responsible for the scene where Mrs. Robinson and daughter get sloshed on vodka as they connect in their mutual awareness of their involvement with Benjamin. The lights go on and off intermittently to reveal a further direction into alcoholic depravity.
And, a very big and indeed! - To the music of Rogers & Hart’s song My Funny Valentine beautifully performed by Chet Baker on trumpet and Gerry Mulligan on baritone saxophone.
I must insert here a disclaimer. This song as played by the duo (there is one with trumpet player Art Farmer and Gerry Mulligan that is as good) is one that is such a favourite of mine that I have at least 8 versions by Mulligan and cohorts including four with Chet Baker.
This My Funny Valentine scene is so good, the music is so perfect, the performance is so good that I am sure that Les Wedman would go along with me to cite here that the scene makes the whole play worth seeing!
For those who might read the lyrics and decide that the lyrics describe Elaine Robinson (and Celine Stubel) to the T might have to think otherwise. The song is from the 1937 musical Babes in Arms and it is sung by a woman, Billie Smith to Valentine “Val” LaMar. In the song Billie pokes fun at some of Valentine's characteristics, but ultimately affirms that he makes her smile and that she doesn't want him to change.
The song itself became a jazz standard via Gerry Mulligan Quartet’s bassist, Carson Smith. In James Gavin's book, Deep in a Dream, Gavin tells how Carson Smith found the then-obscure piece in a song book. He thought it would be a great ballad for the band to try. Baker loved it. Gavin writes: "....he played the tune as written, stretching out its slow, spare phrases until they seemed to ache. His hushed tone drew the ear, it suggested a door thrown open on some dark night of the soul, then pulled shut as the last note faded. ..... The song fascinated Baker. It captured all he aspired to as a musician, with its sophisticated probing of a beautiful theme and its gracefully linked phrases, adding up to a melodic statement that didn't waste a note."
That scene, My Funny Valentine scene, directed by Lois Anderson, didn’t waste one note, one word. It is perfect. Briefely it made me forget the Sound of Silence.
And I must add here that as soon as My Funny Valentine was heard my granddaughter whispered into her proud grandfather’s ear, “That’s Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan in My Funny Valentine.”
My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
You're looks are laughable
Yet you're my favorite work of art
Is your figure less than greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?
But don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentines day
Rogers & Hart
Jerry, Gerry and Oodles of Noodles
My Funny Valentine with Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan