Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: The Philanthropist

Philanthropist Fails to Invest in Plot, Dialogue

By Lauren Yarger
Christopher Hampton’s The Philanthropist starts off with a bang – a literal one – as one of the characters blows his brains out in full graphic detail. Who he is and why he’s there and why the two professors to whom he was pitching his new play seem to think it’s funny to make “empty headed” jokes about him later isn’t really known.

As the production running at American Airlines Theatre continues, we discover that lots of things aren’t known, like why the Roundabout Theatre Company thought such a boring piece of drivel, written as an opposing view to Moliere's The Misanthrope, should be financed as a Broadway show or why talented stars like Matthew Broderick and Steven Weber would want to be in it. The play is not often produced. We understand why.

Broderick stars as Philip, a boring professor of words, who has a lot of trouble communicating. He is engaged to graduate student Celia (Anna Madeley), though how such a boring milquetoast could have attracted or won Celia, or anyone for that matter, is left unanswered. His friend and colleague Donald (Weber) suggests that he really is in love with shy Elizabeth (Samantha Soule), who is so shy, she never utters word (unless I missed it when my mind was wandering during the pointless dialogue to more interesting things like what I needed from the grocery store that week). Meanwhile, Araminta (Jennifer Mudge) has her eye on Philip (why, we don’t know) and manages to seduce him, though the encounter is less than satisfactory and we’re supposed to find this to be an interesting plot point, despite the fact that Philip is the most boring person on the planet and his lack of enthusiasm is hardly a surprise.

Meanwhile, obnoxious acquaintance Braham (Jonathan Cake, though the night I attended, I saw understudy Matthieu Cornillon) has a thing for Celia. Cornillon brought some humor to the character and for a few moments, gave the play, directed by David Grindley, its only signs of life. He was gone too soon.

Milk, bread, peanut butter, eggs… Oh, sorry, my mind wandered back to the shopping list there for a moment. Some more attempts at plot and dialogue pass and Philip and Araminta decide to part. Then a really bizarre thing happened. Broderick poured himself a bowl of cereal and the audience laughed. He poured sugar on it: more laughter. He poured milk on top: even more laughs. At this point, I think the audience just wanted something – anything – about which to laugh or care about at all. Broderick’s nerdy Philip eating a spoonful of the cereal brought more jovial response from the audience. His ensuing dialogue with Araminta did not.

At one point, Weber dropped a line. At least I and my audience neighbors discussing this at intermission, think he did. The round of apparent prompts from his cast mates to get him back on track might very well have been part of the intended dialogue since the whole play sounds like one big dropped line. It really was hard to tell.

All of the characters attempt to do English accents (the play is set in 1970s England) and have varying degrees of success. I started to regret not counting how many times Broderick's character responded with a highly accented, “What?” At least it would have kept my mind occupied.

In the midst of the ennui, Tobin Ost’s outlandish and garishly colored costumes for the women stand out against the plain and imposing walls of Philip’s quarters as designed by Tim Shortall. Those walls offer one of the most exciting parts of the production: a border of lighted letters that scramble, then spell out the seven deadly sins in between scenes. Overall, The Philanthropist fails to give us an interesting theater experience, but I did come away with one valuable thing: a completed grocery list for the week.

The Philanthropist plays at American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, NYC through June 28. For tickets, visit

Christians might also like to know:
• The suicide is very bloody
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Sexual dialogue
• Language
• Sex Outside of Marriage

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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