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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Philanthropist


By Harry Forbes

The Roundabout's production of Hampton's 1970 contemporary variation on Moliere's "The Misanthrope" may make you wonder why they bothered. You wouldn't be able to tell that the piece itself -- about a British don so careful about hurting other people's feelings that he carelessly does just that with his backhanded praise -- is actually a first-rate comedy.

Blame the casting, as Matthew Broderick is woefully overparted in the central role: a dull actor playing milquetoast Philip, with a singularly unconvincing English accent.

Director David Grindley had a hit with this piece in London, and indeed the excellent leading lady there, Anna Madeley, has been imported to play Celia, Philip's fiance.

But despite an amusing comic turn by Jonathan Cake as an egocentric writer, and Jennifer Mudge as a promiscuous young lady who sets out to seduce Philip, the play is uninvolving.

Slight spoiler: The play opens with a shockingly violent act, and also includes some frank sexual banter and implied activity.

Seek out an old BBC-TV production with Ronald Pickup and a young Helen Mirren on DVD for authenticity. (American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.; (212) 719-1300 or www.roundabouttheatre.org) Print this post

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