The Philanthropist and The High Priest of California | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Philanthropist and The High Priest of California 

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The Philanthropist and The High Priest of California, Theatre o' th' Absurd, at National Pastime Theater. These vintage comedies make an odd pair. Christopher Hampton's 1970 The Philanthropist is a portrait of a university professor immersed in scholarly analysis, oblivious to the social changes going on around his sheltered world. The High Priest of California, Charles Willeford's bowdlerized adaptation of his 1953 novel, recounts the sordid tale of a lonely San Francisco child bride who gradually falls under the control of a predatory charmer.

Director Django Baker strives to mute the virulent sexism that permeates these relics of a less enlightened time, but it's still unsavory. The Right Girl, the Wrong Girl, even the Sleep-With-Anybody Girl all reject the amiable academic but casually hop into bed with his egotistical, outspoken colleagues. The innocent-faced young matron adopts stray tomcats, keeping them in cages so she can better "take care" of them.

Christopher Wagner lends a terrierlike tenacity to The Philanthropist's protagonist, and Michele Alexander is likable as a gold-digging nurse in The High Priest of California. But overall the performances have the stiff uneasiness associated with actors still discovering things--not always nice--about their characters.

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