Robbing Mrs. Robinson

Oh, Anne Bancroft -- older, reptilian goddess who could snake around an innocent young man with lip-licking ease -- where are you when we need you? In the 1967 film The Graduate, it was Bancroft's unforgettable Mrs. Robinson that made us so terrified for dewy-eyed Dustin Hoffman. Her slinky moves were poison; her catty commands to "unzip me" meant certain death.

Oh, Mrs. Robinson, how you've changed. In this season's theatrical version of The Graduate, you're portrayed by Jerry Hall, a lean, leggy cardboard cutout of the character. With her manicured, easy strut and haughty blond gaze, Hall certainly looks the part. But the woman who's most famous for being Mick Jagger's ex-wife all but dies on stage as soon as she opens her lovely mouth. She doesn't so much live the character as stand about posing as the character, which might be expected from an ex-model turned, um, actress.

Of course, Hall gets little help from the script. Terry Johnson adapted and directed the film's Broadway version, which is now running at the Hobby Center as part of the Broadway in Houston season. In his hands, the magically dark tale of youthful angst in a world filled with badly behaving grownups completely loses its power. Gone are the film's terrifying rage, utter isolation and pitch-black irony. Gone is any comment on the barren landscape of middle-class American consumption, populated by suit-wearing men and bored alcoholic housewives.

In its place is a pleasant tale of young love made sweet by Rider Strong (of Boy Meets World fame), who plays Benjamin Braddock, Mrs. Robinson's lust interest, with likable, boyish charm and upbeat energy. Likewise, Devon Sorvari plays Elaine Robinson with giggly, college-girl earnestness. In this new version, we get to know a lot more about Elaine. She's politically correct, for example, partaking in marches and believing she can make a difference. And there's a tidy scene at the end where Elaine and her naughty mother come to terms with one another. This new-age version, in which everything is wrapped up in a tender ending that involves -- implausibly -- a large box of Froot Loops, just doesn't hold a matchstick, much less a candle, to the film. If you want to see The Graduate, do yourself a favor and rent the original.

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Lee Williams