Two actors who’ve never worked together, and have barely had any interaction with each other before a couple months ago, are charged to enliven the duality of one of film and fiction’s most iconic couples.
But Nichole Garrison and Keenan Larson are hitting it off as the famed Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin Braddock, offering a timely launch to Theatrikos’ summer mainstage productions in “The Graduate.”
The show runs Friday, June 2 through June 18. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. at the Doris Harper-White Community Playhouse. Tickets are $18-$21, or $20-$24 for opening night including a post-performance reception. Call 774-1662 or visit Theatrikos.com for more.
Ideally, the pair would’ve liked more time to bond for the sake of these steamy roles, but, as Garrison noted, the process has moved quickly and smoothly.
“It’s terrifying, honestly,” Larson said with a laugh. “When you think of the role.”
Of course, he’s alluding to the sexy romp featured in this enlightened comedy. But with Theatrikos’s newest director Patricia McKee leading the way, one of the silver screen’s most notable stories is coming into its comedic own.
Even the first night, McKee was walking the on-stage couple through a tableau where things got a little clumsy. Legs and arms entwined, Garrison announced her next moves — laughing all the way.
“When you’re an actor, there’s a comfort level, a personal space thing,” Garrison said. “All those boundaries have to go away — and they have to go away fast in a very unnatural amount of time … You have to be a grown-up about it, or you have to be a kid about it. We’ve been both.”
McKee’s style broadens beyond the actors to the story, too, where she explained her job is to adhere to the intentions of the playwright. One exception is an off-stage guitarist playing the Simon & Garfunkel transitions live for the audience.
“I think a lot of directors like to put their stamp on stuff,” she added. “I like to disappear.”
The playwright seems to have followed similar notes, too. The actors noted Terry Johnson adapted the story for the stage, but didn’t pick apart the rapid-fire dialogue exchanged between Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in the screen version.
This presents a challenge they are deftly working at squashing.
“It forces you to have really acute beats,” Larson said. “You have to try to make up the mind of your character; not necessarily get into the mind. You’re trying to make something out of … some unnecessary repetitions.”
The seamless result comes from playing off each other’s reactions on stage, and, ultimately, getting to know their characters beyond the iconic portrayals of Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson and a young Dustin Hoffman’s Braddock.
And while Garrison admits she’s never been Mrs. Robinson in life, she certainly can identify with her. Instead of portraying the glimmering vixen as the woman everyone knows — a superficial, unscrupulous diva — she’s diving straight into the character’s core.
“I understand her in a really intimate way, not because I’ve lived this story, but I’ve lived similar stories — ish,” Garrison said. “I can relate to her pain, her loneliness and sadness. I think I’m really trying to love her rather than judge her.”
She hopes audiences leave the theatre with an understanding of Mrs. Robinson, and a sense of love and empathy.
At 23, Larson is a recent graduate himself. He’s settled into a creative pathway now, but his life could’ve taken a different curve -- much like Braddock, who is suddenly faced with a decision after having his entire life planned until that moment.
“That transition, man, I level with immediately,” he said. “I see why when you’re lost you make some ridiculous decisions when it’s given to you. He’ll take any direction until he finds as soon as something peaks his passionate interests.”
In Braddock’s situation, that passion comes from Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine. She is Braddock’s “True North,” as Laron noted, who instills in him the idea that love isn’t much of a choice when passion is present.
In this, the actor explained he’s eager to learn how audiences compare the textures of this story’s stage version with the film — to experience and enjoy the dynamism the actors have brought to the stage some feel was missing from the original portrayals.
“I hope this production will break that notion,” Garrison added. “I hope that people walk away from it understanding these people in a different light … It’s not that iconic image we think of in ‘The Graduate.’”