Wednesday, August 23, 2017

“The Explorers Club” At Lamb’s is an Exploration Into The Art of Zaniness

If you’re tired of all the political news these days, try a bit of fun with Victorian politics, for a change. Lamb’s Players Theatre’s “The Explorers Club” now playing through Sept. 24th in beautiful downtown Coronado is not only a change of pace from the usual it’s farce plain and simple.

Picture this: You are living in Victorian England. You are a woman. You are a scientist and you make a miraculous discovery. You bring your discovery, ‘genuine warrior’ Loo-ah-JA-mweno-wepa-nefsmat-naa’rusengway (his name roughly translates “To Strike Without Warning and Waters the Ground with Your Blood) from the NaKomg tribe, the lost tribe of Lost City of Pahatlabong, to the lounge of the gentlemen’s Explorer Club.
 Fran Gercke, Omri Schein and Paul Eggington
The club is made up Lucius Fretway, a botanist and scientist, Harry Percy an explorer, Professor Cope, a herpetologist, Professor Walling, a zoologist, Professor Sloane an archeo-theologist, and Beebe, another explorer.

That they are all so stuffy and full of themselves doesn’t stop them from falling all over themselves, even though they vehemently oppose women in the ‘club’, by welcoming Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Jessica John) a female anthropologist into their sacred space.

It piques their interest as long as she can tell them about her find and the fact that she will be having an audience with the Queen introducing Liugi (John Rosen) to Her Majesty. After that she is relegated to another part of the lodging.

Jessica John, John Rosen and Fran Gercke
It's incendental that Luigi’s skin color is a pale blue, his hair in blond braid, that he speaks an imaginary language (think of the Native American’s in Cowboy and Indian movies) and seems understand everything going on around him. Everyone in the club stares, but are completely taken in with her rare find. 

He eventually shows that he can mix drinks in the absence of their not so skilled missing bartender, Roger and can throw a wrench into the most somber of ceremonies, like meeting the Queen and whacking her over the head.

This sets into motion a visit from Sir Bernard Humphries (Brian Salmon) Queen Victoria’s private secretary, “Things do not look good for The Explorers Club.”

L. to R. Brian Mackey, Fran Gercke, Omri Schein and Ross Hellwig
 “The Explorers Club” by Nell Benjamin is silliness personified, poking fun at Victorian (1879) manners, misogyny, male superiority and the downright stuffiness and boorishness, albeit gleefully silly, of its male characters.

If you leave your troubles outside the door and get into the ridiculousness of it all you can enjoy some fine acting by Jessica John, Fran Gercke, Brian Mackey, Omri Schein, Paul Eggington, John Rosen, Ross Hellwig, Charles Evans, Jr. and Brian Salmon.

To go into a long explanation of each of their idiosyncrasies would be just as silly as the idiosyncrasies themselves, but here’s a sampling:

Sloan (Paul Eggington) is an archeo-theologist or Biblical Scientist.
He has been tracing the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel for some time now concluding that they were invaded by the Assyrians and sold to slavery and never mentioned again in the bible.

His assumption is that they went to Ireland bringing with them the Ark of the Covenant.  He thinks the Irish should be relocated to Palestine. Now he’s on a mission to raise money from the Irish Society to find the Ark on The Hill of Tara, or Torah! That in turn causes a small riot outside the explorers club.

Then there is Percy (Ross Helleig) the explorer, who claims to be the first to step foot on the East Pole (you know as opposed to the North and South) and is now in search of the West.

He’s been AWOL for so long that Fetway has assumed his role as president of the club. He just happens back on the scene looking much like a character out of Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.
L.to R. Brian Mackey, Omri Schein, Fran Gercke and John Rosen
Oh, yes, he did have a role in that one as he breaks out in song with the rest following. It’s one of the funniest as opposed to give me break moments in the show.

The shy botanist Fetway (Fran Gercke) falls head over heels for Phyllida as soon as he comes face to face with her. He develops a new plant and dedicates it to her. Then he proceeds to makes cigars from the leaves of the Phyllida venusti. He claims the leaves cause euphoria when inhaled.
Fran Gercke and Ross Hellwig
Cope (Brian Mackey) is a herpetologist who has discovered an especially poisonous cobra. He wears it around his neck like a fine piece of jewelry.    

Omri Schein is Professor Walling. He is a zoologist studying the intellectual abilities of guinea pigs. He discovered that they have enough intelligence to open the latch of their cages. He’s still looking for the ‘ones that got away’.

Director Robert Smyth has assembled a terrific cast to portray each of his off -kilter characters. Keeping the pace on fast track is a challenge but with the jokes and gags about each respective member it’s enough to recover from one and move on to the other.

John Rosen as Luigi
One especially mouth dropping caper is when Luigi serves up brandy for the men and slides the drinks off the bar with lightning speed into the waiting hands of a ‘soul brother’ and cheers and applause from the audience. 

As the only woman to gain entrance to the club, Jessica John, beautiful as always, manages to upset the apple cart especially when she comes back as her twin sister, the Countess Glamorgan, and once again keeping the men off balance.

John who plays Phyllida with as much amusement as she played the luring and alluring Marquise de Merteuil in “ Les Liaisons Dangereuses” earlier this year, sets this whole bit of nonsense into motion. Looks like the beginnings of a lucrative career.  

Jeanne Reith’s period costume designs are up to her usual par and Mike Buckley designed one of the best sets ever constructed on this stage; it’s outstanding. He also set the bar for lighting.

Credit Rachel Hengst and the Natural History Museum for the many props (animal skins) hanging on the walls, stuffed animals in glass displays and masks of different tribes.  Deborah Gilmour Smyth is cited for the sound design and Jordan Miller, fight director.     

Call it a romp, call it a farce, call it silliness, it’s fun none-the-less.

See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through Sept. 24th
Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Phone: 619.495.3066
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1142 Orange Ave.
Ticket Prices: Start at $24.00
Web: lambsplayers.org
Photo: Ken Jacques


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