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April 23rd, 2009

The Philanthropist

I bet you guys think I like everything I see. I bet you see me as a kind of theatrical Pollyanna, who could comment on the lovely warm weather in Hell and find something nice to say about Ghengis Khan.

Well, I didn't like The Philanthropist.

It's Christopher Hampton's inversion of Moliere's The Misanthrope, staged in 1971, when Hampton was younger and nymphomaniac young women ("She has the fastest drawers in the University") were killingly funny. The conceit is that there's this philologist, see, and his name is Philip and he wears baggy cardigans and is literal-minded and can do complicated anagrams in his head and tries to be nice and obliging to everyone, but doesn't really understand people and so gets it all wrong and pisses them off.

That's it, really.

The rest of the cast consists of a horrible, egomaniacal popular novelist in a purple-striped velour three-piece suit that would have given Austen Powers pause for thought, Philip's blonde fiancee, who doesn't seem to like him very much, and, indeed dumps him at the top of the second act, an aimiably cynical English lecturer who is Philip's only friend, a completely silent girl in a truly hideous maxi-skirt who may or may not have a secret crush on Philip, and the aforementioned nymphomaniac, also blonde.

There are some clever lines, most of them aimed at Philip's nerdiness/spinelessness/ impotence/aimlessness. The set is gorgeous--bookcases and a leather sofa and a fumed oak desk I wouldn't mind putting my legs under myself. The costumes are Oxbridge by way of Carnaby Street. The acting was absolutely competent, although I could wish that Matthew Broderick had been allowed to use more than one cadence in delivering his lines.

In short, the whole thing left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Why the Roundabout thought it would be a good idea to revive it, I don't know. I thought people wanted feel-good theatre during a depr. . . er, hard economic times.


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