Date: July 31, 2013
Theatre: Manhattan Theatre Club, NY City Center Stage I
Shari on the Aisle Rating: ****
Cast: Brian Avers, Max Baker, Steven Boyer, Arnie Burton, Carson Elrod, David Furr, John McMartin, Lorenzo Pisoni, Jennifer Westfeldt.
Director: Marc Bruni
Quick Take: The Explorers Club is set in 1879 in the bar/sitting area of a venerable London club dedicated to exploring the world in the name of “science.” Written by Nell Benjamin (Tony and Drama Desk nominated playwright of Legally Blonde), it is an hour and 45 minutes of madcap delight. When you’re not chuckling you will at least have a smile on your face. (If not, sorry–you are a hopeless curmudgeon).
The Details: Lots of people are out to get the members of The Explorers Club: the Queen’s army, the Irish Society, and a violent band of monks. To make matters worse, those cads at the National Geographic Society delight in publicly ridiculing them. And alas, they’re better known for having the “worst bartender in London” than for their scientific prowess. The Club’s president, Harry Percy (David Furr) is as dim-witted as he is dashing. Believing he has discovered the elusive East Pole, he plans to go off in search of the West Pole. One problem: each time he sets off with a group of fellow explorers, he is the sole team member to return alive.
Lucius Fretway (Lorenzo Pisoni), the acting president of the Club until Percy’s return, throws an additional monkey wrench into the situation: he proposes the gentlemen accept a new member—a woman (gasp!) named Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Jennifer Westfeldt) who has just discovered a lost civilization. Ms. Spotte-Hume, played with self-assured pluck by Ms. Westfeldt, has just returned to London with a member of that civilization whom she has named Luigi (it’s a long story). Luigi, played by a scene-stealing Carson Elrod, sports blue body paint and an assortment of juju hanging around his neck. Phyllida has an appointment at the Palace to show her find to the Queen, and even though she has taught Luigi to genuflect grandly when he meets the Monarch, well, let’s just say that the royal audience doesn’t go well.
Add to the mix a bible spouting member who believes the Irish to be the Lost Tribe of Israel, a snake fanatic, a hamster lover, and a former Club member out for revenge. And need I mention that Mr. Fretway’s interest in Ms. Spotte-Hume is not merely scientific?
Should You Go? Absolutely. It’s summer. It’s hot. Too hot for sturm und drang. The Explorers Club’s silly escapism fits the bill. The entire cast is top notch, and the spot on, incredibly detailed set by Donyale Werle, crammed with clubby details, is practically worth the price of admission. But hurry, although the show has been extended, it is scheduled to close on August 4. Tickets are available on TDF, if you’re a member.
Trivia: There is a lot of business involving the tossing and catching of drinks in The Explorers Club. Lorenzo Pisoni is particularly adept at the perfect timing required, as he grew up performing in his family’s circus. Pisoni performed a one-man show (also at MTC), Humor Abuse, where he talked about his unique childhood.
Jennifer Westfeldt will be familiar to audiences from the films Kissing Jessica Stein (which she wrote) and Friends with Kids, which marked her directorial debut. She is also known for being Jon Hamm’s significant other.