In this Marx Brothers, Saturday Night Live, Sid Caesar Show of Shows inspired Victorian fractured fairy tale farce THE EXPLORERS CLUB written by Nell Benjamin which can at times be hysterically amusing includes everything but the kitchen sink.
And I believe there may be a kitchen sink lurking behind the elaborately detailed bar which is the main focus of the elaborately detailed set by Donyale Werle of the Victorian Club populated with an odd assortment of men who go on worldwide expeditions returning with the slew of skinned and stuffed animals and shrunken heads that decorate the walls of this bastion of male dominance.
Sometimes, however an explorer dies en route or gets lost as is the case with the most pompous of Presidents, Harry Percy (delightfully played by David Furr) who at the opening of the play is absent, leaving the nervous and clumsy Lucius Fretway (an equally delightful Lorenzo Pisoni) to preside over the club membership’s meeting. They are both rapidly becoming two of my favorite actors.
Lucius Fretway is introducing, for club membership a Miss Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Jennifer Westfeldt) a beautiful, brilliant blonde “female” scientist/explorer looking very much like Nellie Bly – who has returned with her trophy – a live half naked male “savage” painted blue from a lost civilization whom she has named Luigi (Carson Elrod) who has an odd way of saying hello – he slaps your face.
A female! This idea causes an uproar from the men, especially the Bible toting Professor Sloane (John McMartin) who has some dandy things to say in a most delightful throw away manner.
Professor Cope (Brian Avers) who wears his pet cobra James around his neck and Professor Walling (Steven Boyer) whose caged pet guinea pig/rat Jane is always with him are also reluctant but willing to hear her out – over brandy and cigars which make for a quick exit for this unwanted female until she returns as her twin sister.
Complication ensue when both Percy and Lucius vie for the charms of Phyllida, a plant straight out of Little Shop of Horrors takes over the stage and Luigi is presented to Queen Victoria and while saying hello…well you can imagine a slap that is heard all the way back to the Club and all hell breaks loose until Beebe (Arnie Burton) the lost companion of President Percy arrives and takes the fizzle right out this otherwise vintage champagne production.
That is, until they have drinks that new bartender Luigi makes and slings and slides them across the bar in a choreographed, side spitting, amazing display of acrobatic nimbleness where not a drop of liquor is spilled as the members each are thrown and catch their drinks. Not once but three times and the finale tops them all. Directed beautifully by Marc Bruni – these “toasts” save the show and make a more than mediocre and less than great farce more or less memorable.
At Manhattan Theatre Club New York City Center Stage 1
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