Another month, another live read. This one actually wasn’t even supposed to happen. What’s more, I wasn’t supposed to be able to attend – I should have had rehearsal this evening. But the stars (and schedules) aligned and Jason Reitman and I found ourselves face-to-face (with several yards in between) once again, this time for a reading of the script for The Graduate, written by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry.
Tonight’s cast consisted of Paul Scheer as Mr. Braddock (originated by William Daniels) and others, Tig Notaro as Mrs Braddock (originated by Elizabeth Wilson) and others, Kevin Pollak as Mr. Robinson (originated by Murray Hamilton) and others, Mae Whitman as Elaine (originated by Katharine Ross) and others, Jay Baruchel as Benjamin (originated by Dustin Hoffman), and Sharon Stone as Mrs. Robinson (originated by Anne Bancroft). Everyone was pretty perfectly cast by Reitman; Stone gets yet another shot at the vampy femme fatale type she was born to play, while Baruchel gets to take a turn at the original neurotic young adult – a type that has made his career (although he is not nearly as strong as Hoffman was when it comes to playing the “real” moments). Everyone else was great in their supporting roles, especially Pollak, who has always done great voices. Scheer and Notaro will go largely unsung in write-ups of the event, though they deserve as much attention as they can get; I would love to see both comedians receive more responsibility in a future Live Read.
The Live Reads ostensibly serve two purposes: they celebrate screenwriting as a craft, and they function as a unique experience. Reitman always likes to talk about how these readings don’t get recorded or put up on the internet. It is an experience solely for the people in the room. It’s not like this summary is going to satisfy anyone’s craving to attend a Live Read. In fact, it will probably upset you more. (Become a member here, then, ya jerks). It really is neat to be a part (however small) of something that exists for a singular moment.
As for the other endeavor – canonizing the screenplay – tonight’s Live Read did a great job. I have not seen The Graduate in six or seven years, and I was very surprised by how funny the script is. Sure, Mike Nichols’s film evokes laughter, but it is a much deeper film than the script necessarily implies. For instance the great moment that closes the film does not come from the script; that sense of “now what?” developed on set. The screenplay is more concerned with post graduation ennui, rather than larger questions about life. It was refreshing to hear Reitman’s reading of Henry and Willingham’s action lines, as they are excellently paced and at times poetic.
I value these experiences as a film fan and as an aspiring writer. Buck Henry himself was in the audience at tonight’s reading, and though I am sure he long ago came to terms with Nichols’s final interpretation of his script, it must have been refreshing to see a literal depiction of the words he and Willingham wrote about 50 years. And to have it mean something to the audience. Live Reads are a testament to the screenplay as art, not just the film itself. So get thee to the film independent website; you don’t want to be left out when they start up again in October.