By Beki Pineda
THE EXPLORER’S CLUB. Written by Nell Benjamin; directed by Michele Wright. Presented by Evergreen Players at Center Stage (27608 Fireweed Drive, Evergreen) through Nov. 12, 2017. Tickets available at 303-674-4002 or www.evergreenplayers.org.
This is a troupe of players that knows how to take a lemon-y situation and turn it into lemonade. Midway through the performance, the sound system started making loud and rude noises, completely interrupting and overpowering the dialogue. Confusion reigned as the invisible people in the booth scrambled to fix the problem and the actors were stopped dead in their tracks. Rather than go into panic mode, this talented group exercised their improv mime talents and kept the audience laughing as we waited out the noise invasion. When, at last, it stopped, they picked up where they left off as if nothing had happened. True pros!
It’s 1879 in a stuffy men’s club in London dedicated to the exploration of unknown territories throughout the world. Into this cozy environment, which allows the men to celebrate their past glories while getting quietly blotto, bursts a female explorer seeking admission to their closed (to her) membership. Lucius, the club president (Eric Ritter, a young and more handsome Kelsey Grammer look-alike) has his own personal reasons for promoting her admittance. The other members are divided. Sloane (Jay Louden), a Bible-thumper who believes the lost tribes of Israel ended up in Ireland, a theory that nearly causes another Black Sunday later, is adamantly against allowing any member of the weaker sex into the club.
The other members are fairly neutral and could be easily persuaded by Lucius. Sloane (a meek and mild Patrick Collins) has discovered a poisonous cobra species and wears one around his neck; of course it’s going to escape and create another scene of chaos. Walling (Mike Kinnie) has a very strange relationship with his caged guinea pig (we won’t go into that). Later, Sir Harry Percy returns from his latest adventure, during which he lost most of his traveling companions. His claim to fame is the discovery of an East Pole, but he never reveals exactly where it is. Sir Harry is a charming but pompous blowhard (played winningly by Clyde Sacks, a Sean Connery look-alike) who provides romantic competition to Lucius for the hand and heart of our spunky heroine, Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Leann Rogers). Leann plays not only the ground-breaking explorer but her own snobbish sister.
Phyllida, in the one truly legitimate discovery in the whole group, has uncovered a lost tribe and brought one of its members back with her as proof of her achievement. As a tribal member tattooed in blue and named Luigi by Phyllida, Sean Maslow proves to be, like Charlie in THE FOREIGNER, adept at picking up the language and a savant at mixing drinks. In a mostly silent performance, Sean nearly steals the show as the innocent Luigi.
After a ceremony in front of Queen Victoria goes horribly awry, the Club is visited by an emissary from the Court to demand reparation. Matt Bachus as Sir Bernard Humphries is a spit-and-polish, by-the-book negotiator who is also able to see the wisdom of compromise. As if lost but hungry snakes, an insulted Queen, angry Irishmen outside the door, and a plant that continues to grow were not enough plot twists, the door then opens for Beebe (Bruce Montgomery)—one of the members of Sir Harry’s last expedition, thought lost but actually captured by monks and tortured—is now hellbent on wrecking vengeance on the one who left him behind.
As you can tell, this is a convoluted plot that unfolds gracefully and includes ridiculous situations, a great deal of physical comedy, clearly defined characters and slam-bang humor. Skillfully guided into a mélange of merriment by director Michele Wright, Evergreen Players continues to grow in professionalism and polish. The set, replete with stuffed heads and décor from the many trips to the jungle these men have supposedly made, provides a diversion for the eyes. The bar, central to the action as Luigi takes over bartending duties, becomes the runway for a great many flying drinks in one of the funniest, most carefully choreographed bits of slapstick ever seen.
WOW factor: 8.5