Special to the Village News
London, 1879: England’s most esteemed bastion of science, The Explorers Club, is under attack. This defender of testosterone, tradition and intolerance is being coerced into accepting its first female. As for the members, the idea is intolerable. Unthinkable. And impossible.
Playwright Nell Benjamin has an excellent understanding of what it takes for a woman to be included in a man’s world. With a master’s degree in women’s studies from the University of Dublin, Trinity College and a B.A. from Harvard, Benjamin is perhaps more recognized for her adaptation of “Legally Blonde, the Musical” for the stage.
While British farce is a difficult genre to carry off in America, “The Explorers Club” would be the exception. Droll puns such as Harry Percy’s remark about the various whims of females and “that is why they are called ‘whim-en’”. Real groaners capable of making the brain explode. This is when English farce can go so very wrong.
Oh, wait, there is more. Having just returned from the North Pole, Percy is also in search of the not yet discovered elusive East Pole. As the dashing explorer, Percy is played with an intense conviction by Ross Hellwig featuring a devastating, Dudley Do-Right smile.
The only sane person in the club of explorers would appear to be Lucius Fretway (Fran Gercke). As club president, he resides over the mayhem with purpose and devotion to duty.
Not to be overlooked are the two best friends, Professor Cope (Brian Mackey) and Professor Walling (Omri Schein). If ever a dynamic comic duo exits – it would be these two eccentrics.
Adding to the nonsense, the blundering Professor Sloane (Paul Eggington) is off to Ireland to inform the Irish people they are truly the lost tribes of Israel. It takes an amazing understanding of one’s character to pull off such naïve stupidity. Huzzah!
Unfortunately for the professor, his unsolicited remarks elicit retaliation by a crazed Irish assassin played with zealous ferocity by Charles Evans, Jr.
And as all farces go there is so much more to this plot. For instance, Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Jessica John) who is the cause of all the chaos by insisting that she be admitted to the club based on her findings of the lost man. It is her belief, the scientific community cannot and should not overlook her remarkable finding. And to add to the authenticity of her discovery, she is presenting Luigi in person at The Explorers Club followed by an introduction to her majesty, Queen Victoria.
Playing a dual role as her own twin sister, Countess Glamorgan, John portrays an impressive guardian to feminine injustice while managing to keep a straight face during the ongoing antics of the irrepressible Luigi (John Rosen) even after he slaps the queen at his presentation. Played with imagination and dexterity, Rosen deftly draws focus without even trying.
Lastly, not to be overlooked is a smart performance carried out by Brian Salmon as Sir Bernard Humphries, the queen’s regent.
This is a tough show to manage. Just the same, director Robert Smyth pulled it off. He put the puzzle pieces together with perfect casting, an amazing set design by Mike Buckley, spectacular costumes by Jeanne Reith, optimum lighting design by Nathan Pierson and impeccable sound by Deborah Gilmore Smyth. Although, the hardest- job-award should go to property master Rachel Hengst. Without her flawless attention to detail, all would be lost.
Granted, it can be a trek to Coronado Island. Still it is a fine way to spend an afternoon exploring the wide beaches, strolling Orange Avenue shops or savoring a tasty meal in the very walkable downtown area.
Warning: Do not leave home without a funny bone. Otherwise this production, filled with mayhem and foolishness, will cause conjunctive pain. Knowing ahead of time “The Explorers Club” can be silly and often, mind numbing, it is done so well, it is worth the effort. A splendidly funny show practically in our back yard.
“The Explorers Club” runs until Sept. 24 at The Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado, Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 4 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m. The box office can be reached at (619) 437-6000 or visit www.lambsplayers.org.