There are enough politically incorrect attitudes in “The Explorer’s Club” to offend anyone who isn’t a member of a good old boys WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) group.
So just remember if seeing the show, now playing at Citadel Theatre, that it is a farce about the kind of men’s club (right, no females allowed) that would have felt comfortable during Queen Victoria’s reign.
This club’s focus is not wealth or lordship. It is for adventurers and scientists who seek glory with trophy killings, experiments and “discovery” of cultures to be exploited that have not yet been revealed in their part of the world.
Enter anthropologist Phyllida Spotte-Hume with a nicely hyphenated British name who has found a “lost” civilization. She is a bona fide explorer who has brought to England, Luigi (Frank Gasparro), a “savage” from the village. But alas, Phyllida is female.
Complicating the plot is that botanist Lucius Fretway (Nate Strain) is in love with her and names a plant (that later takes over the clubhouse) for her.
She also attracts explorer Harry Percy (Guy Wicke) eye after he stomps in claiming he has discovered the “East Pole.”
Superbly interpreted by Elizabeth Rude, Phyllida tries to follow their requests such as staying out of their club room where they drink, toast and smoke cigars.
However, she and two club members have been invited to an audience with the Queen. You learn upon their return to the club it turned disastrous.
You don’t see the action but you hear that herpetologist Professor Cope’s (Jacobs Fjare) snake (rubber) devours zoologist Professor Walling’s (Erik Pearson) rodent (cute stuffed animal) Jane who escapes from a cage in the Throne Room.
Worse, is that Phyllida’s Luigi, a name she gives all her pets, slaps Queen Victoria as a greeting.
Meanwhile, archeo-theologist Professor Sloane (Bob Sanders) visits an Irish association to tell them they should move to Palestine because they are members of the lost tribes of Israel.
What you have by the end of Act I is two scientists angry with each other, Phyllida and Luigi leaving the scene because a Queen’s Envoy, Sir Bernard Humphries (Edward Kuffert), wants a map so England can declare war on Luigi’s village.
He is accompanied by the Palace Guards. You hear the Guards clashing with members of the Irish association who are enraged by Professor Sloane’s proclamation.
In Act II you meet Phyllida’s twin, Countess Glamorgan (Rude), and two additional character, an Irish assassin and explorer Beebe, both played by Scott Phelps.
The concept, written by playwright Nell Benjamin (co-writer of the music and lyrics to “Legally Blonde”), sounds funnier than it seemed at the performance I attended.
If you go and feel the same way, don’t blame the excellent cast or the fine directing of Robert D. Estrin who also directed terrific productions of “Other People’s Money” and “Lend Me A Tenor” at Citadel.
The play just doesn’t move with the speed of a good farce. Actually, more a parody than a farce, its puns and gags become old after viewed and heard a couple of times.
However, there was some audience laughter. The set design by José Manuel Diaz Soto is fabulous and worth seeing as are the antics of Gasparro as Luigi.
DETAILS: “The Explorers Club” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, through May 27, 2018. Running time: 2 hours one intermission. For tickets ad other information call (847) 735-8554 and visit Citadel Theatre.
For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago