Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Graduate
Aux Dog Theatre
Review by Stephanie Hainsfurther


Kir Kipness
Photo by Russell Maynor
As much as it still pains me that smash hits from my childhood are now period pieces, I have to say the folks at Aux Dog Theatre have nailed The Graduate. Cast with some of our best local actors, this staging evokes a certain time and place while remaining relevant, the two qualities essential to a great period drama.

Set in 1964, the existential crisis of graduate Benjamin Braddock (Matt Puett) runs up against the lives of his complacent, clueless parents (Marc Comstock and Lisa Fenstermacher) and their friends the Robinsons (Bridget Kelly and Shad Adair). The older generation has retreated to boozing and mowing the lawn (sometimes simultaneously) to bolster their dead hopes and empty lives. Benjamin is the focus of his parents' attention as he refuses to join his own graduation party downstairs. No amount of cajoling will change his mind. Then, Mrs. Robinson shows up in his bedroom, and her style of persuasion moves Benjamin after all.

Smoky-voiced Bridget Kelly is experienced and seductive as Mrs. Robinson, that American icon. She drinks, smokes, and knows her way around a flustered man-boy. Everything about her—the way she squints at him from beneath her false eyelashes, her sexual confidence, how she doesn't quite lose control when she drinks too much—speaks volumes about this jaded, unloved character. In and out of bed, her still-sexy body strikes poses meant to cultivate the illusion that she dominates Benjamin. But her naive daughter Elaine (Kir Kipness) is her weak spot. When Benjamin falls in love with Elaine, Mrs. Robinson is undone.

We're familiar with the plot from the movie, but the program notes for this production caution us that this is not the movie version. However, from the archetypal image of Benjamin we see as the lights go up, to the music of Simon & Garfunkel, the play retains much of the classic storyline.

There is one important scene that is not in the movie, a mother-daughter bout between Mrs. Robinson and Elaine that gives Kelly and Kipness a chance to flex their acting muscles. As they have it out over Benjamin, drunkenly sparring for the title of worse-betrayed, the two find searing pain and a form of reconciliation in honesty. It's an exciting scene that helps to make this stage version much less male-centered than the film. We get to know all of the characters and their motivations, not just Benjamin.

Director Victoria Liberatori knows her actors, and the audience always benefits. Matt Puett gets Benjamin inside out; that thousand-yard stare tells all about his disillusion and alienation. Kipness could rely on her lovely eyes to portray Elaine's inner life; instead she reveals layers of spunk, confusion, anguish, and humor through her give-it-your-all acting. Marc Comstock as Mr. Braddock and Shad Adair as Mr. Robinson surprise us in a cathartic scene in Benjamin's hotel room in Berkeley. Kelly, of course, is the play's white-hot center as Mrs. Robinson. You cannot ask for a better cast.

Through April 10, 2016 Friday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm, 3011 Monte Vista Blvd. NE, (505) 254-7716, auxdog.com


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