Review: The Graduate at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours a 15-minute intermission

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Dyana Neal as Mrs. Robinson and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


“Plastics.” If you are familiar with this one-word movie quote, you are familiar with one of the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time (#42), and the 1967 film The Graduate. It’s a classic film with big name stars such as Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft and gave us the musical styling of the impeccable Simon and Garfunkle, including the well-known “Sound of Silence.” In 2002, The Graduate was taken from the screen and transferred to the stage starring Kathleen Turner, Jason Biggs, and Alicia Silverstone, who were all on their games at the time and it was a critical and commercial hit during its year-long, 380 performance run. The Graduate is now Dundalk Community Theatre’s latest offering, Directed by Todd Starkey, and presents this 1960’s coming-of-age and still-relevant piece to a new generation, some of whom may be dealing with similar personal problems as the complex characters in the story.
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Stephen Edwards Rachel Verhaaren, and Elisabeth Johnson. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Scenic Design by Marc W. Smith (who also wears the hats of Lighting and Sound Design, as well as Technical Director, in general) is, to say the least, exquisite. Smith, being the resident Scenic Designer for Dundalk Community Theatre, knows his space and is wise in his choice of a clean, minimal unit set utilizing set pieces to present various locations. Though the set is minimal, Smith has a great attention to detail with his choice of pieces adding a realistic, but non-hindering value to the production as a whole. With the amount of locations written in the script, the pieces are many and cause for a few lengthy transitions, but the design is superb, as a whole.
Costume Design by Eva Grove, who also graces the stage in a few supporting roles, is spot on and absolutely appropriate for the 1960s setting. Being a unique and eclectic time for fashion, Grove has managed to represent it flawlessly with loud colorful patterns, as well as subdued conservative looks that help, not distract from the action and setting. Her well thought-out, detailed design adds great value to the entire production.
Todd Starkey takes the helm of this production and, directing an adaption of an already well-known piece is always a challenge, but Starkey seems to have stepped up to that challenge. There are definite minor issues with the script, the main problem being missing information. If you’re familiar with the film, you’ll be okay, but if you are not, you might get confused as to how the relationship between the younger characters blossom and why but, taking it at face value, the gist is still intact. Starkey has cast his show well and has a good comprehension of the material and, aside from a few aforementioned lengthy transitions (the production could have done without a few of the blackouts, which broke up the momentum a bit), the pace is appropriate and consistent. Overall, Starkey should be applauded for his efforts in bringing this relevant and relatable story to the stage.
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Dyana Neal and Mrs. Robinson and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth stating that the entire ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% effort to this production and each player works hard to bring this material together to tell this multifaceted story.
Alice Scanlon and Thomas “Toby” Hessenauer take on the roles of the caring, but somewhat oblivious Mr. and Mrs. Braddock. Though Scanlon is a little stiff and scripted in her performance, she clearly understands the character of the hapless, naïve mother who is a woman of a different time and is content being a housewife and letting the males in her life take the lead. She pulls off the role nicely and compliments the superb performance from Hessenauer, who is a highlight of this production and who completely embodies the character of the financially and, some would consider, personally successful Mr. Braddock. He emotes the confidence and strong will of a 1960s head-of-household. He works well with and off of his fellow cast mates that makes for a brilliant and believable performance.
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Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock and Elisabeth Johnson as Elaine Robinson. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


John Dignam as Mr. Robinson and Elisabeth Johnson and Elaine Robinson make up 2/3 of the dysfunctional Robinson family and are major players in this tawdry tale. Elisabeth Johnson does well with the role, having a good understanding of her character and the naiveté and sheltered upbringing that makes up Elaine Robinson. She has good chemistry with her cast mates and gives a commendable portrayal, save an over the top, hokey scene where her character gets drunk and Johnson is scripted and unnatural, barely getting her dialogue out, but, overall, she gives a delightful performance.
John Dignam is another highlight of this piece, portraying the at first confident, successful business man to distraught husband near flawlessly. His dramatic turn where his character breaks down and confronts Ben, his unassuming nemesis, is a bit forced and unnatural but, aside from that, his performance is strong, confident, and authentic.
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Dyana Neal as Mrs. Robinson and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Last but certainly not least, we have Dyana Neal as the sensual cougar, Mrs. Robinson, and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock, the young man who is just searching for purpose, like so many so soon after graduating from college. It’s clear that Neal and Edwards have a firm grasp of their characters, but, unfortunately, the chemistry between the two is just not as apparent. Both play their characters well, individually, with Neal being the stronger performer, but are missing the connection and attraction required of these two characters, not to mention the awkward, forced insinuation of sexual acts that are, I assume, supposed to be humorous to downplay the sex, but just end up falling flat. Neal is on point with the sultriness of the bored Mrs. Robinson and keeps her character consistent, as she should be portrayed. It’s also worth mentioning Neal’s velvet voice that is a pleasure to listen to and makes it easy to understand why she is on the radio. Edwards starts off portraying Benjamin Braddock as an awkward, unsure recent graduate, which works perfectly, but as the story moves forward, Benjamin is supposed to find his footing and become surer of himself and comfortable with the world around him, but Edwards can’t seem to find that arc in this character. With that being said, he exudes a certain confidence and authenticity that makes for a charming performance.
Final thought…The Graduate is a coming-of-age story with a good blend of lightheartedness and complexity that keeps this piece interesting. Being a well-known, classic film, there are built-in challenges of transferring to the live stage and for those who are unfamiliar with the film, there may be some missing pieces in the script and it may seem a little jumbled and rushed, but in the end, you get the gist of the story. The performances are commendable and, aside from the numerous blackouts breaking up the flow, the pacing is decent. The story itself is timeless and relatable, so it’s worth checking out this well put-together production.
This is what I thought of Dundalk Community Theatre’s production of The Graduate… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
The Graduate will run through March 4 at Dundalk Community Theatre, College Community Center, John E. Ravekes Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.
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Review: I Hate Hamlet at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission
Some of the Baltimore theatre community are going through “A Year of Shakespeare,” producing the Great Bard’s plays or works based on his writing. Dundalk Community Theatre’s latest piece, I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick, Directed by Tom Colonna, with Set Design by Marc W. Smith, and Costume Design by James J. Fasching and Eva Grove is just right if you’re looking for a piece that’s not too heavy but has enough substance to help you learn a little something about a legendary actor of stage and screen and Hamlet, the play by William Shakespeare.
I Hate Hamlet is set John Barrymore’s actual New York City apartment and focuses on Andrew Rally, a successful television actor who is on the horns of a dilemma as he takes on the dream role of Hamlet. All the while, he’s struggling with a girlfriend who’s not budging on her chastity. The ghost of John Barrymore shows up only to convince Rally he’s good enough for the role of Hamlet and can’t go back to the other side until he does. Just as Barrymore has convinced Andrew he’s worthy of the role, his West Coast director friend shows up offering a role in a television pilot and a hefty salary and guaranteed fame to go along with it. Which will he choose? Shakespeare, which arguably makes him a real actor and a project his girlfriend loves, or TV, where he can have fame and fortune?
This is a bit of a biographical play as it gives you a little insight into the life of actor John Barrymore and how he felt about the role of Hamlet and, as a bonus, it explains the character of Hamlet a little to give us a better understanding of the poor fellow who asks the age old question of “to be or not to be.”
Set Design from Marc W. Smith is, in a word, stunning. Smith, who has been designing for the Dundalk Community Stage for many years, absolutely knows every square inch of his stage like the back of his hand and his designs express his knowledge. The authenticity shines through in this set and his use of levels and matching just the right set piece or piece of furniture to compliment the piece is superb and his attention to detail makes for impressive, thoughtful work.
Costume Design by James J. Fasching and Eva Grove is subtle but appropriate for the “living” cast and each character has his or her own unique look from the flashy New York real estate agent to the quirky girlfriend, to the West Coast director, and even John Barrymore himself, who happens to be in costume for Hamlet. Fasching and Grove do a fantastic job costuming these characters with a well thought-out, unassuming wardrobe that the actors seem to be comfortable wearing.
Director Tom Colonna looks to have taken the traditional route with this production (though there’s not really an alternative to the traditional) and he keeps the story moving along. His vision is a bit dicey as I couldn’t decipher if this show is about Andrew, the rising star or John Barrymore, the legendary star, but either way, the simple message of “believe in yourself” is somewhat clear, if you look close enough. The casting is a bit curious as the balance between Thomas “Toby” Hessenaauer’s confident performance as John Barrymore and Charlie Lidard’s shaky performance as Andrew heavily teeters on the uneven. Just as the pairing of Jennifer Skarzinski’s brilliant and funny portrayal of Felicia to Phil Vannoorbeeck’s inconsistent attempt at Gary. Overall, Colonna does a good job moving the story along, but some of the jokes (or what I think are jokes) are glazed over. For instance, since there’s a supernatural theme to this piece a lot of sound effects were used to portray supernatural happenings, like when a character feels a cold chill that is Barrymore standing behind them waving his hand around the back of their neck. Aside from looking a little corny, the actor’s reactions weren’t big enough and the bit kind of just fell to the wayside. It’s a quirky piece, as it is and a challenge for any director so aside from some minor casting choices, Colonna does admirable job with the piece, in general.
The small ensemble of this piece work very well together and are natural enough to be believable. The characters are individuals and the actors do a great job tackling their roles, overall.
Phil Vannoorbeeck as takes on the role of Gary, the fast talking West Coast director. Now, I think I see what Vannoorbeeck was going for, and he gives 100% to his performance, but it just falls a little flat for me. He seems to overcompensate the carefree personality of his character and comes off as unauthentic. There are times when he keeps the pace up and then he falters and slows down to be not so fast talking. He might want to work on his consistency throughout the piece because he goes from being likable to be a complete ass and I’m not sure whether to grab him by the scruff of the neck and throw him out for being an ass or go and have a beer with him! However, that’s not to say Vannoorbeeck didn’t do a good job because his performance was quite appropriate and like I stated, he gives a great effort and works well with his fellow ensemble members.
Charlie Lidard takes on the role of Andrew, the up and coming television star who, whether he likes it or not, is getting help from the ghost of the legendary John Barrymore. All in all, Lidard does a great job with this role, but he just couldn’t keep my interest for very long. He has a great look for the part but seems scripted and unnatural at times. He works well with his cast mates and his chemistry with them (especially Morgan and Hessenauer) is giving his all, which is absolutely commendable, but perhaps it’s just a weak written character.
Tackling the role of sweet Deidre, the flighty good-natured, naïve girlfriend who holds tightly to her chastity, driving her boyfriend crazy is Emily Morgan. Morgan shines in this role. She plays the role with an authentic sweetness that it almost gives you diabetes and her confidence allows her to make good character choices. She’s comfortable and she gives the character just enough whispiness mixed with compassion to give an authentic, entertaining performance.
Regina Rose as Lillian, the elderly, wise agent to Andrew plays this character very well. Rose’s accent is spot on and fits the character perfectly and she understands the comedy of this piece and her character, not taking it too seriously. She gives a strong, confident performance with a good command of the stage and it’s a joy to watch.
As Felicia, the New York real estate agent, Jennifer Skarzinski is an absolute and undoubted highlight in this piece. She has a fantastic sense of comedy and her timing is on point, every time! Even though a couple of her great one-liners fell on deaf audience ears, she kept it going strong and didn’t falter once. Her stereotypical “New York” accent was spot on and worked well for the character add to the authenticity. Skarzinski gives a natural and comfortable performance giving 110% effort making for an absolutely superb performance.
Thomas “Toby” Hessenauer as the late, great John Barrymore is a standout in this production. He has a great command of the stage, a great comedic timing, and has a clear and bold voice adding to his near flawless performance. Tackling a biographical role has its own set of challenges but Hessenauer, a Baltimore theatre veteran, seems to really understand John Barrymore and is comfortable in this role, giving an excellent performance.
Final thought…I Hate Hamlet at Dundalk Community Theatre is a light, fluffy piece that doesn’t seem to have much of a message (that I took away) other than, perhaps, the cliché of “have faith in yourself and you can do things beyond what you think you can do” but it is a well-presented and, for the most part, well performed piece that has some great one-liners and moves along nicely. Whether you’re unfamiliar with John Barrymore and the work of William Shakespeare or a fan, you’ll enjoy this piece as touches on not only Barrymore’s professional life, but his private, personal side, also, and gives a little insight to this legendary actor, as well as enlightening the audience on the character Hamlet and the play in general.
This is what I thought of Dundalk Community Theatre’s production of I Hate Hamlet… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
I Hate Hamlet will play through March 5 at Dundalk Community Theatre, 7200 Sollers Point Road, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.
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