By: Sandi Durell
What’s an all mens’ club to do when Lucius Fretway, a botanist (played by Lorenzo Pison) proposes a woman anthropologist Phyllida Spotte-Hume (gutsy Jennifer Westfeldt who doubles as her upper class sister) for membership, and it’s the Victorian era 1879 in London? Aghast are the current members at the Explorers Club! This is the current madcap adventure at the Manhattan Theatre Club, Stage I, written by Nell Benjamin.
It appears that Lucius has an eye for the svelte, light frame of Phyllida. He also names a new flower after her – a rather unusual species – when inhaled the smell makes one confused, euphoric, itchy, followed by death.
Phyl is a well- bred English woman who has discovered a lost tribe, the NaKong in the Lost City of Pahatlabong, where she wound up on their shores with only a spoon and, wouldn’t you know it, the leader of the Tribe was spoon-shaped so she was considered a goddess. Somehow she was able to make her way back home, bringing along a sample – a native who she named Luigi (Carson Elrod) who speaks gibberish, and is painted blue, so he could be studied. Apparently, we find out, she always names all her pets Luigi!
Well, these men of science just don’t want to give in and have a woman around, especially the pious Prof. Sloane (the effectual John McMartin) who blurts out his own biblical interpretations – “your sex is weak with sin.”
In the fray of these scientific oddities we find Prof. Walling (Steven Boyer) who seems to have lost all his guinea pigs except for Jane, who is still caged (but that’s another disaster waiting to happen); Prof. Cope (Brian Avers) whose deadly cobra is worn as a necklace and is named Rosie; a larger-than-life explorer Harry Percy (pretentiously arrogant David Furr) who believes he has discovered the East Pole and is now excited about a West Pole. After all, says he “the pope told Galileo that the Earth was flat, but he said, nuts to you, pope! and we say the same thing everyday.”
It’s a mad, mad, mad world here at the Explorers Club, absurdities abound as they go through their cigars and brandy ritual, using Luigi as the bartender who has learned how to make drinks, slipping and sliding them to the members as the audience roars with laughter.
Prof. Sloane, in searching for the 10 lost Tribes in the Bible thinks he’s discovered that they all went to Ireland and is excited to make his speech to the Irish Society to let them know they’re all Jewish. There’s a war about to happen when Luigi, after being presented and bowing to the Queen of England, winds up slapping her across the face because she put out her hand to him and, in his world, that’s the standard greeting. And on and on it goes with comic wit and perfect timing reminiscent of the Marx Bros. or Abbott & Costello.
All the cast members are top notch including Max Baker as Sir Bernard Humphries and Arnie Burton as Beebe/An Irish Assassin.
The stuffy club with animal heads, portraits, and books is the design of Donayle Werle and the period costumes by Anita Yavich. Marc Bruni cleverly directs the group of scientific kooks in this masterful spoof.
You won’t go wrong trying to catch this before it closes on August 4th at MTC, 131 West 55 St., NYC 212 581-1212, nycitycenter.org Running time 1 hr. 35 minutes with intermission.
*Photos Joan Marcus