By Nell Benjamin
Directed by David H. Bell
At the Windy City Playhouse, Chicago
Screw ball slap stick farce is a laugh-fest
Nell Benjamin, co-composer and lyricist for Legally Blonde, wrote The Explorers Club in 2013 as she wanted to create a British farce set in Victorian England. She succeed in creating a true laugh-fest. Her smart dialogue, combined with wacky characters and clever, well-executed physical comedy, makes for a most entertaining theatre experience. Under the tight, well developed direction from David H. Bell, The Explorers Cub unfolds as a comic explosion of spot-on timing and superbly rehearsed movement.
It’s late Victorian London at the fancy Explores Club (terrific set design by Scott Davis) anchored by a large, well stocked bar. The members have a formal meeting at this scientific-oriented gentleman’s club. Lucus (Alex Goodrich), the acting club president and avid botanist, nominates a woman as the next new member. Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Cristina Panfilio), is an explorer who brought Luigi (Wesley Daniel), a blue NaKong tribesman from a newly discovered race of spoon-worshipers. The members, include the just-returning club president, Percy (Ryan Imhoff), who recently discovered the East Pole. He instantly starts competing with Lucus for the lady’s affection.
The other members can’t seem to take nominating a woman member too seriously due to their stifling Victorian values. Walling (Matt Browning), the snake-loving zoologist, and Cope (Zack Shornick), the club resident herpetologist, and the “archeo-theologist” Sloane (Dan Rodden), are ambivalent toward Phyllida.
When Phyllida takes Luigi to meet Queen Victoria, the primitive inadvertently insults the queen, and the Empire seeks revenge. Humphries (Colin Morgan) is sent to the club by the crown to resolve the insult.
The result is a physically comedy with antics, uproarious barbs, and rejoinders that find Sloane telling the Irish that they are really Jews, which causes riots as well as snake-bitten victims, the NaKong native Luigi becoming the club’s bartender, and an assortment of wacky misadventures. The slap stick farce is hilarious with amazing physical bits and well-timed movement.
The Explorers Club is a fresh satire of those Victorian British arrogant sexist, racist, and misogynist values that made the Brits believe that they were the center of the world. This satiric spoof is cleverly constructed and marvelously performed by the game cast. I especially like the work of Alex Goodrich as the comic leader with energetic and physically deft work by Wesley Daniel as the wild native. They anchor a true ensemble. The laughs keep coming.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 5, 2016
For more info checkout The Explorers Club page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park, Chicago, IL. call 773-891-8985, www.windycityplayhouse.com, tickets 425- $55, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, sundaes (consult website for times), running time is 2 hours,20 minutes with intermission, through April 17, 2016