Volume 78 - Number 49 / May 13 - 19 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Photo by Joan Marcus
Broderick (left) and Weber: bad Britcom boys
1970s British satire ages poorly
Lifeless revival rambles, goes nowhere fast
By Scott Harrah
Matthew Broderick is horribly miscast in this lifeless revival of Christopher Hamptons 1970 British satire that puts a new spin on 17th century French playwright Molieres The Misanthrope.
The Philanthropist is a quintessentially British play and a mediocre one at best and theres nothing more frustrating than watching all-American actors like Broderick dismally trying to act like Brits.
Christopher Hamptons supposed intent was to write a play that was the opposite of The Misanthrope, a classic about a man who deplores humanity and conventional society. Broderick plays Philip, a university professor who teaches philology, the study of words. Philip is purportedly a man who sees the good in everything, but Brodericks performance is so wooden that he almost seems like a supporting character in the first act. He spends most of that act speaking in a monotone voice, draining Hamptons dialogue of any zest or humor.
The only true standout here is Jonathan Cake as Braham, a velvet-suited, oversexed, sarcastic novelist who delivers bon mots in rapid-fire succession. He adds badly needed life to the thematically hollow, sleep-inducing first act which consists of a stultifying, tedious cocktail party. Characters sit around, sip drinks and indulge in pseudo-intellectual bantering. Theres plenty of chatter about literature and a make believe, tragic assassination of the British prime minister and members of Parliament at the House of Commons. This may have seemed like trenchant political satire in early 1970s Britain, but its pointless and dull when performed for a 21st century American audience.
Most of the cast members give serviceable performances. Steven Weber is appropriately world-weary as Don, Philips colleague, and Jennifer Mudge is pleasantly bubbly as man-crazy Araminta. Samantha Soule plays Elizabeth, a mousy woman who barely utters a word throughout the entire play. The only other actor besides Cake who has any concept of true characterization is Anna Madeley as Celia, Philips fiancée. Madeley has been imported from the shows recent revival at Londons Donmare Warehouse, and she has all of the right nuances and emotional intensity required for the character.
Other than a silly subplot about Philips fiancée Celia finding him with another woman which unravels like something from a bad sitcom in act two not much happens. Hamptons overly talky script has very little action, but it could work with actors who would give some meaning and verve to the material. Under David Grindleys misguided direction, however, this revival just rambles and goes nowhere.