Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Theater Review: The Philanthropist

Location: American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NY, NY

Website: Official The Philanthropist site

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Steven Weber, Anna Madeley

My Review: If I needed anything to convince me not to renew my annual subscription to the Roundabout Theatre, then their production of The Philanthropist would do the job nicely. The most interesting moment in the play occurs in the first 15 minutes, then the rest of the two hours plods along at a snail’s pace, with the six scenes tied together with a thread I have yet to understand the purpose of.

Set in 1970 England, The Philanthropist tells the story of a dinner party thrown by a boring and stuffy college professor (Matthew Broderick), with the guests including his slightly more engaging colleague (Steven Weber), his mismatched fiancée (Anna Madeley), and some other insipid people. Throughout the course of the play, each character finds himself matched with the wrong partner, many boring conversations are had, and I pop a blood vessel trying to figure what the point of the entire thing is.

In the lead role, Broderick stumbles over his lines and sleepwalks through the performance, much like he did in the 2005 revival of The Odd Couple that reunited him onstage with Nathan Lane, which makes me wonder why he continues to act on stage when it’s pretty clear he’s just no into it anymore. Weber, as a fellow professor, is a bit more engaging and energetic and tries desperately to keep his side of the conversations with Broderick upbeat. Madeley, as Broderick’s not-meant-to-be fiancée, is cute, but the fact that her character has an ounce of life in her makes it impossible to believe that she’d ever want to marry the cardboard cutout professor.

The Philanthropist is just the latest disappointment from Roundabout in the past two years. They certainly manage to attract the big names, having offered shows starring Mary Louis Parker, Frank Langella, Stockard Channing, and the aforementioned Broderick. But the productions they offer run the gamut from “just OK” to “mind-numbingly dull,” with The 39 Steps being the one shining exception. I wish someone would remind the Roundabout Theatre that theater is meant to be entertaining. Every production doesn’t have to be a lavish musical, filled with sparkling costumes and toe-tapping tunes, but at the end of the night, I want to feel like I’ve been enriched in some way and enjoyed myself, rather than having mentally constructed a grocery list while a half-assed attempt at theatrical greatness has gone on in front of me.

Bottom Line: Skip The Philanthropist and get tickets to see anything else Broadway has to offer (for my fellow subscribers who are stuck having to see it, my condolences). That’s not a very thorough review, but if the Roundabout Theatre isn’t going to bother to try to produce good shows, I’m not going to bother trying to produce a thoughtful reaction.

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