A show about a British club dealing with sexism might not sound like a laugh riot. However, that’s exactly what Lamb’s Players Theatre’s production of The Explorer’s Club turns out to be in Coronado.
Set in 1879, London, the titled group of men loves to drink, smoke, socialize and discuss science. As a meeting gets underway, the president, Lucius Fretway (Francis Gercke) tells the others that he the wants a brilliant woman, Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Jessica John), to be the first ever female club member. His reasoning is both because he deeply respects her and has a crush on her.
Not only do the men have various opinions about the matter, but are surprised when Phyllida brings a native, Luigi (John Rosen), to the clubhouse. She plans on bringing the warrior with her to meet the Queen of England. None of them are aware that Luigi’s actions will cause chaos for all the Brits.
Every scene takes place in once location, which Mike Buckley fills with plenty of detail on his set. Before the story begins, and throughout intermission, everyone seated can spend time just staring at, and enjoying, all the pictures, masks and items onstage.
Buckley’s scenery and Jeanne Reith’s costumes suggest that the evening will be a comedy of manners. Neil Benjamin’s script is actually a lot creatively silly than many might expect
Religious humor, pratfalls and a few cartoonish deaths are used in good fun. Witty interchanges and jokes occur every few seconds, and a director with a good sense of humor is required for any staging of The Explorers Club.
Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth rarely slows down to let people catch their breath from laughing. Several moments are so hysterical, that certain theatregoers’ faces might hurt after the performance.
As no scenes take place outside of The Explorers Club, characters occasionally give speeches about what is happening in the outside world. Benjamin’s monologues can be a little wordy, but the performers bring an eccentric energy to her dialogue.
Smart and shy, Gercke starts off playing Lucius as a straight man trying to keep situations from getting too heated or dangerous. Once the stakes rise for Lucius, Gercke becomes a comedically active performer.
Brian Mackey, Omri Schein, Paul Eggington and Ross Hellwig all portray Lucius’ idiosyncratic peers. The more the audience learns about people in the club, the more entertaining each actor becomes in both acts.
Two supporting roles tie into Benjamin’s theme about overcoming intolerance. Phyllida is often the smartest and most sophisticated person in the play. Yet, she has enough flaws and interesting traits that the potential explorer doesn’t turn into a Mary Sue.
Like Gercke, John delightfully plays with the audiences’ initial expectations by starting off as a fairly normal person, and then slowly getting involved with quirky and surreal situations.
Phyllida is usually accompanied by the mysterious foreigner Luigi. If there is one aspect about The Explorer’s Club that can cause uncomfortable post theatre discussions, it’s the inclusion of the chief of the fictitious NaKong.
Although the tribesman is from a made-up race, a white actor in the role might be a surprise for some. Fortunately, Rosen brings various layers to the strong leader. Within seconds, Luigi can be naïve, powerful and intellectually gifted.
Other types of intolerance, such as discrimination by sex and social status and even preferring a kind of animal species to others, are handled in amusing ways. During numerous sequences, Benjamin comments on these issues without drawing attention away from the action happening throughout Smyth’s rendition.
Without being unduly preachy, Benjamin and Smyth mix-end-of-the-summer entertainment with a comical statement about equality. Make sure your funny bone works before seeing this play.