Playwright Nell Benjamin’s (Legally Blonde) The Explorers Club lambasts the last bastion of the manly man—an 1879 London gentleman’s club where explorers and scientists of great renown impart their wisdom during “brandy and cigar hour,” which is observed as an ancient rite. When Lucius Fretway, a meekly charming and oft-tongue tied botanist (Danny Cackley) proposes to induct a new member into the club—the acclaimed explorer and scientist who recently discovered the “Lost City of Pahatlabong”—all heads are a nod until they learn—Great Scott! By Jove! The explorer’s a crumpet! A bird! A WOMAN!
Phyllida Spotte-Hume (for whom Fretway not-so-secretly pines) attempts to win over the room with the tales of her exploits in Pahatlabong, where the NaKong tribe have driven nearly every animal species to extinction and where they subsist on jerky made of poisonous toads (most of the poison boils off when cooked in urine). As proof of her exploits, she has brought back a great NaKong warrior (Christopher Herring); a half-naked, blue-skinned savage clothed in little more than a loincloth and nicknamed “Luigi” after her long-lost love (and all of her pets).
Yet, even though Spotte-Hume’s accomplishments have earned her an audience with the queen, she’ll receive no invitation to a dram with the boys (an honor nonetheless extended to Luigi, dress code be damned). The club simply can’t afford it –not while those “National Geographic” lads (the club’s arch enemies) already rib them mercilessly for having the worst bartender of all the London clubs.
Professor Sloane (Matthew Pauli)—a self-proclaimed “archaeo-theologist” or the “science of the bible”—certainly will have none of it. He admonishes the men with biblical quotes to “beware the evil woman” who is “weak with sin” and “led astray by lust” (“no offense”). Yet the other men seem quite smitten with Miss Spotte-Hume. Especially the dashing explorer Sir Harry Percy (Nicklas Aliff), fresh from his triumphant discovery of the “East Pole” (a dangerous expedition on which he lost a lot of good men, literally and figuratively) and who is confident he can best Fretway for her affections. And the odd-couple duo of Professors Walling (Harrison Smith) and Cope (Ryan Tumulty) are far too wrapped up in their respective love affairs with a poisonous snake and woefully unclever guinea pig to raise much of a fuss.
The Explorers Club closes August 4, 2019. Details and tickets
In its inaugural season, Prologue Theatre delivers a polished, professional and positively hilarious performance not to be missed. Staged in a black box theater on Gallaudet’s campus, everything about the production is first rate. Scenic Designer JD Madsen transforms the simple space into a surprisingly opulent (if not reeking of testosterone) club of a bygone age. Coffered wooden walls in a rich mahogany serve as a backdrop to a stage centering on a bar filled with jewel-colored liquid in crystal decanters and dwarfed by a pair of hysterically oversized, unmistakably phallic, elephant tusks. The club members, donning three-piece tweed suits with smart accents (Sydney Moore), lounge on comfortably worn tufted leather sofas, sipping brown liquor from crystal highball glasses.
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The cast, whose British accents are ‘positively spiffing,’ wholly surrender themselves to the absurdities of their characters, each driven by their singular obsessions (snakes, guinea pigs, beating those National Geographic boys to the “West Pole,” and convincing the Irish they are, in fact, a “lost tribe” of Jewish descent, to name a few). Replete with sight gags and endless eye-rolling puns, the plot grows more ridiculous by the moment, but the actors never let on—maintaining that stiff British upper lip. As the action accelerates to a near-dizzying pace, the actors keep up, performing increasingly impressive gymnastic feats, leaping from furniture to rescue airborne cocktails and engaging in stage combat to ward off first, an Irish assassin, then, a vengeful Tibetan monk (both winningly played by Jack Novak).
Of particular note is Christopher Herring’s hilarious performance as Luigi. Herring occupies a world of his own throughout the entire production—maintaining a near-constant shtick of the savage ‘saved’ by white civilization even when the action focused elsewhere. Herring follows the movements of the other men (and woman) with a wide-eyed hunger (made more pronounced by his blue hue), brilliantly aping the movements of the more “refined” men to great comedic effect. As “Luigi” increasingly gains insight into the language of these strangely buttoned-up men, he inserts himself into the action, first communicating through elaborate charades, then by parroting their clipped British tones in his own exaggerated gibberish.
Invoking the great British traditions of Monty Python, The Explorer’s Club is jolly good fun and a promising start for Prologue Theatre.
The Explorers Club. Written by Nell Benjamin. Directed by Noah Schaefer and Jason Tamborini. Featuring Anna DiGiovanni, Danny Cackley, Nicklas Aliff , Christopher Herring, Ryan Tumulty, Matthew Pauli, Harrison Smith, Zach Brewster-Geisz and Jack Novak. Stage Manager Keta Newborn. Assistant Stage Manager Ashley Milligan. Scenic Design by JD Madsen. Lighting Design by William D’Eugenio. Sound Design by Neill McFadden. Costume Design by Sydney Moore. Properties Design by Cindy Jacobs. Choreographed by Emily Sucher and Danny Cackley. Dialect Coach Rex Daugherty. . Reviewed by Meaghan Hannan Davant.