L.A. Theatre Works Brings “The Graduate” To OU

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Four stationary microphones and a sound effects table. That’s the extent of the stage set for L.A. Theatre Works' The Graduate, which will make a stop at Ohio University next week.

The nationally touring theatre company isn't relying on fancy sets, intricate blocking or special effects for this adaptation of the classic book and film, which makes for a unique and unconventional take on the concept of a stage show.  

L.A. Theatre Works was started in the mid-1970s by several actors of note, including Ed Asner, Richard Dreyfuss, Stacey Keach, John Lithgow and Amy Irving.

Intended to be an outlet for TV and film actors who wanted to perform theatre but didn’t have the time to commit to a full-scale stage production, the group devised a system where they could stand in front of an audience with scripts in hand and read a play.

They eventually began recording their performances, creating an audio library of thousands of plays available for free to schools and libraries across the country.

Out of the idea of radio theatre, shows like The Graduate were born, which combine elements of the radio theatre style with more conventional stage performances. 

"We combine movement, but we still talk into the mics and look out, and we have costumes and we’ve memorized our parts. So it’s a hybrid of both traditional theatre and radio theatre," cast member Thomas Virtue explained. "There’s no set. That’s kind of left to your imagination the same way watching a radio play live would be. There’s also the addition of a sound effects table, which enhances the performance and provides the sound that you would have if you were seeing it live. That becomes one of the stars of the show."

So what’s the appeal of this style of performance? Immediacy, according to Virtue.

"One thing that you get from radio theatre is a performer looking directly over a microphone at you, and when four actors are on stage together, you’re not seeing them in profile, or the back of one’s head, you’re seeing all four emotions, the lives of the characters coming at you at once," he said.

Heidi Dippold, who plays the iconic role of Mrs. Robinson, believes the lack of distractions gives the performance a more refined feeling and enhances the audience’s perception of the story.

"It really gives the audience a distilled performance. It’s very fast-paced and it’s very specific and there are no lulls," she said. "There’s no lounging about smoking a cigarette for Mrs. Robinson; you can’t fill that space. Once it begins it’s a really wild ride. And, from what I’ve heard from audience members, they really get into it in a hyper-focused kind of way that they don’t when they’re at traditional theater because they really have to listen. People seem to really appreciate that, that it almost takes all the distraction away from it and you really hear the words and understand the relationships in a very clear way that maybe would be diffused by a full performance."

The company has received critical acclaim at venues across the country for their stage adaptation of Charles Webb’s novel and the subsequent Mike Nichols film, which was nominated for seven Oscars and became one of the most influential films of the 1960s.

Virtue claims that the story is just as compelling, enticing and taboo today as it was back then, which is why it continues to captivate audiences.

"I just notice the audience is really glued into this play," he said. "There are laughs but there is also a lot of drama in it too. It’s a beautiful mix."

L.A. Theatre Works’ The Graduate will take the stage at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium on Monday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Visit the Ohio University Performing Arts Series website for tickets and information.

L-R: Thomas Virtue, Brian Tichnell, Diane Adair (photo: Matt Petit)