Linda Gray to fill in for Bracco in `Graduate'

She steps in for part of run at Mechanic

January 06, 2004|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,SUN ARTS WRITER

Actress Lorraine Bracco has been forced to bow out of the role of the sultry Mrs. Robinson for the first half of The Graduate's two-week run in Baltimore.

Bracco has been sidelined by an unexpected family emergency, although a spokesman for the actress declined to elaborate. Complicating the situation, the actress, whose most famous role is that of psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi in the television hit, The Sopranos, has been suffering from a bad case of bronchitis that has made it difficult for her to speak. Bracco is expected to return for the second week of performances Jan. 13-18.

Taking over the role from tonight's show through Sunday will be actress Linda Gray, best known as Sue Ellen Ewing, J.R.'s long-suffering wife in the 1980s television series Dallas.

"I just hope people in the audience won't be too disappointed," Gray said. "But as a fellow actor and a human being, I'm glad to help Lorraine out."

Marks Chowning, executive director of Clear Channel Entertainment, said fans who bought tickets primarily to see Bracco can exchange their passes for a comparable seat during the second week of the run.

He's grateful - and relieved - that Gray was able to step into the part on such short notice. Her two-month stint playing Mrs. Robinson on the national tour ended Sunday in Pittsburgh. The alternative, Chowning said, would have been for the Mechanic to cancel the show for the week Bracco will be absent.

"We're replacing an A-level marquee star with another A-level marquee star," he said. "Linda has been doing the tour for several months now in other markets. I think people will be excited to see her."

In addition to her segment of the national tour, Gray also performed the role of Mrs. Robinson for six months in London and took over on Broadway for two weeks when the star, Kathleen Turner, was on vacation.

Gray is basing her interpretation of Mrs. Robinson on her mother's experience of having her career cut short by childbirth.

"My mother was a lovely artist and a ballerina, and although my parents haven't come right out and said so, when she got pregnant with me, it wasn't planned," Gray said.

"Like Mrs. Robinson, who got pregnant in the back seat of a car, my mother quit her career, but she was happier as a mother and as a wife than Mrs. Robinson was. My mother used her art background to design the windows in my father's jewelry store, and in making dresses for my sister and me."

At 61, Gray is about 15 to 20 years older than her character - and the other actresses who have portrayed Mrs. Robinson. But the grandmother of two said it wasn't a stretch to imagine seducing a 23-year-old man.

"The way I perceive this character is that she lives in a social strata that gives her a little position, and that keeps her afloat," Gray said.

"She has not slept with her husband in four or five years, and she's starting to wonder if she is at all sexually desirable.

"She has a couple of vodkas, and they loosen her inhibitions, and she wanders upstairs to lie down for a few minutes. When she ends up in Benjamin's room, it's not with the seductress pose in mind. It's almost playful."

Gray is not the first actress to play Mrs. Robinson on the stage, nor will she be the last. Turner was succeeded by Jerry Hall who was replaced by Gray. After Bracco finishes her stint, Kelly McGillis is scheduled to take over.

But Gray has a connection to the role that none of the other actresses can boast. Remember the famous poster that accompanied the 1967 film? The one in which a young Dustin Hoffman gazes - rapt and suspicious - upon an elegant, nylon-stockinged leg?

Contrary to what most fans believe, that leg didn't belong to the film's star, Anne Bancroft, but to then-model Gray.

"I didn't even remember that I had done it," she said. "They tracked it down through the photographer, who kept the records."

Talk about having a leg up on the competition.

The Graduate

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 2 p.m., 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Through Jan. 18.

Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza

Admission: $20-$57.50

Call: 410-481-7328 or go to www.ticketmaster.com

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