The University of Minnesota Duluth
Department of Theatre
The Philanthropist
Music Source: Perpetuum Mobile, by The Penguin Cafe

Christopher Hampton

Directed by Rachel Katz Carey
Scenic Design by Jeff Johnson
Costume Design by Stacy Mittag
Lighting Design by Mark Harvey

March 13-29, 2003
Dudley Experimental Theatre

Lighting Design Approach

It’s been a while since a play, on first reading, affected me emotionally as much as Christopher Hampton’s The Philanthropist. Perhaps it was because Hampton sets his play in two communities I hold dear: England and higher education. The characters speak in a vernacular I admit I aspire to, but Hampton reveals a much more bleak image of a culture that assumes its own intelligence as the highest plane of universal wisdom.

The scenic designer placed the acting space in the corner of the Dudley Experimental black box with the audience on two adjacent sides of the rectangular set. I noticed the blocking mirrored the scenery in its angular, even maze-like movements and wanted the lighting to emphasize this angularity with four distinct functions of area light set at right angles to one another. The key light for each scene came from a high back light, indicating time of day. Evening and night scenes used warm high back light to emphasize the illusion that light was coming from the many practicals on the stage.

In contrast, day time key light was a high cool white back light.

Two sets of fill light were used for visibility for the audience, each at right angles to the other. Color was a medium cool blue, reinforcing the idea of the play being set in England in the late fall.

The production called for six scenes and the lighting helped establish time of day for each scene.

Scene 1 - Early evening

Scene 2 - Early evening (identical to the previous scene)

Scene 3 - Late evening

Scene 4 - Morning

Scene 5 - Midday

Scene 6 - Early evening (again identical to Scene 1)

To create different looks for each of these scenes, the four lighting functions were used in contrast to one another. In Scenes 1, 2, and 6, warm high back light and front fill were balanced with one another. In Scene 3, less front fill indicated time had moved deeper into the night.

Scene 4 used window patterns of light in warmer tones to indicate a rising sun. Cool white high back light was balanced with cool front fill to indicate morning. Scene 5 used the brightest levels of cool white high back light and the least amount of fill, enhancing the idea of the brightest time of day as well as sculpting actors’ faces and bodies more profoundly.

Our production called for lighting control capable of isolating specific locations during scene transitions. A pale blue-green down light special was provided for Philip for the transition between Scenes 1 and 2. Warm top light, as if from a chandelier above the dining table, had independent control in order to create a series of tableaux between Scenes 2 & and 3.

A special was also included to light Philip during the scene shift between Scenes 5 & 6.

Production Team Production Crew



Posted Saturday, March 15, 2003
Actors in The Philanthropist Can Give Only So Much

The Philanthropist is either misnamed or titled with sly irony. Christopher Hampton's play, which opened Thursday at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Marshall Performing Arts Center, is about a man so terrified of offending people that he offends by his very lack of self. Hampton's intent was to invert Moliere's The Misanthrope, an idea he develops with skilled writing, wit and engaging characters. To these assets the UMD Theatre production adds first-rate staging and solid acting. But at its core, The Philanthropist is hollow and ultimately unsatisfying.

The title character is Philip, a scholar of an obscure subspeciality of English at an unnamed but venerable English university who explains that he can't teach literature because he has "no critical faculties whatsoever." Matthew Salmela does an impressive job with a hopelessly paradoxical role. A philanthropist without a self to give is as much an oxymoron as an impoverished benefactor.

Act I centers on a dinner party during which we see that Philip is surrounded by people who embody, in varying degrees, Moliere's humanity-hating Alceste. They include his impatient, passive-aggressive fiancee, Celia, played by Molly McLain, and the spectacularly boorish blowhard Braham, masterfully rendered by Ben Elledge. Hampton also introduces some intriguing characters who never actually appear. They are the students, colleagues and prominent people the guests take turns sneering at, gossiping about and rendering judgment upon.

In Act II, the focus is narrowed to Philip's relationships with individuals, chiefly Celia. It is to her that he confesses that, while he likes people well enough, the driving force in his life is his fear of offending. Philip is more Pee-Wee Herman than Mother Teresa, which leaves the audience without a central character to which to react.

Presented with this conundrum, director Rachel Katz Carey has made Philip not lover, not hater, not fearer. In fact, he's nothing -- alternately an amiable dishrag and such a naif as to seem dull-witted.

The entire play takes place in Philip's quarters at the university, charmingly represented by Jeffrey Johnson's set design, which evidences the same attention to detail as all other aspects of the production: Carey's blocking and stage business; Stacy Mittag's costumes and Kate Ufema's dialect coaching -- the British accents sound authentic and, more importantly, are consistent and never impede intelligibility.

Mark Harvey's lighting design is especially enhancing to several scenes -- and to the creatively handled scene changes.