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Coo-coo-cachoo: 'The Graduate' to open at Corn Stock Winter Playhouse

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By day, she teaches middle school in Germantown Hills and is known by everybody as that sweet, nice, funny Mrs. Ballard.

At night, she puts on a hot little black dress, grabs a cocktail and a cigarette and becomes a sultry, sexy cougar known as Mrs. Robinson.


"I am a little nervous about being on stage in my underwear, but I am loving it," Trish Ballard said recently before starting rehearsal for "The Graduate," which opens Friday, Nov. 1 at Corn Stock Theatre's Winter Playhouse.

"I am excited and thrilled and I feel honored to play Mrs. Robinson. It really is one of the most iconic roles a woman can play. She was a cougar before there really were cougars. I hope I can do it justice," Ballard said. "I've really had to separate myself from Trish Ballard the middle school teacher, but I've enjoyed the challenge."

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, then at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and 9 and at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Winter Playhouse in Upper Bradley Park. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students (parents, keep in mind the sexual subject matter of "The Graduate") and can be reserved by calling 676-2196.

While "The Graduate" in the book, film and play refers to Benjamin Braddock, the role of Mrs. Robinson is the best known from the show and Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song about her. Patrons of the show will hear quite a bit of Simon and Garfunkel, starting with "The Sound of Silence" as the drama unfolds on a stark, yet functional set.

Director Chip Joyce knew he had to find just the right actress for the role that was made famous in the 1967 film by Anne Bancroft. "I ended up with five serious contenders, any of which could have done the role. Each had something to offer, but I am confident I made the right choice. Trish is great," Joyce said.

"The whole cast is great. I ended up with 20 people auditioning for the 11 roles, which is a lot for a non-musical. And I have some seasoned veteran actors playing smaller, non-lead type roles. I lucked out," he said.

Tim Jenkins portrays Benjamin Braddock, made famous in film by Dustin Hoffman. "Tim does a great job. He isn't trying to do Dustin Hoffman doing Benjamin Braddock. He has been a pleasure to work with," Joyce said.

Jenkins said he is honored but nervous to play a role that has no local exposure other than the film portrayal. "The Graduate" didn't become a stage play until 2002 and this is the regional premier, "so most people will relate this role to Dustin Hoffman if anybody. Of course, a lot of things come to mind when it comes to thinking about Benjamin Braddock and Chip has allowed me to shape the role for me, to use my artistic ability to make it mine."

Jenkins said he believes "The Graduate" was ahead of its time as far as the older woman-seduces-college boy aspect. "But it took place right before the hippie era began in the 60s but with Benjamin, you get to see some of the rebelliousness of that era start to happen. It has been a challenge, but a very enjoyable one," he said.

Other actors in the show include Laura Miller-Mansoori as Elaine Robinson, Tim Drew as Mr. Robinson, George Maxedon as Mr. Braddock and Laura Johnson as Mrs. Braddock. Playing multiple roles are Nathan Irwin, Mariah Thornton, Jeff Craig, Dustin Strickland and Jo Street-Blume.

Joyce said he submitted "The Graduate" for more than one reason. "I wanted to direct a non-musical, for one thing. This is my first one and after directing about every genre of musical I wanted to do something different. But I also wanted it to be a show I knew and liked, while having broad appeal. Everyone know 'The Graduate' movie, but not many realize it became a Broadway hit in 2002. Nobody here has seen the stage version, and that appealed to me," he said.

The stage version written by Terry Johnson combines the book by Charles Webb and film script by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham and also adds some original scenes.

"So much of the movie includes quiet montages that obviously don't translate well to the stage so it was important to draw more from the book. But it remained a challenge because it was not written for a space this small. But I was determined to make it work in the round and the cast has been really enthusiastic about what we're doing," he said.

Joyce said that the show takes place in the 1960s is an important element to the story line, "which you will see if you come to the show."

Joltin' Joe may have left and gone away, but Mrs. Robinson is around forever. This weekend and next, you can find her at Corn Stock Theatre.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).