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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW The Explorers Club
by Karen Topham
2018-05-02

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Written by: Nell Benjamin. At: Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest. Tickets: $40. Runs through: May 27

If you are looking for political correctness, you might skip Citadel Theatre's new production of Nell Benjamin's The Explorers Club. If, on the other hand, your goal is to have a good time and laugh a lot, you'll do yourself a favor by heading off to Lake Forest to see this cleverly written, well executed farce.

Directed by frequent Citadel director Robert D. Estrin and featuring a talented cast of players in broad, exaggerated farcical mode, The Explorers Club takes us to a late 19th-century London clubhouse dedicated to science and exploration. The intrepid members of the club are a varied lot. Nate Strain is Lucius, a botanist who has found a new species of plant with surprising properties; Jacob Fjare is Cope, a herpetologist ( that's a studier of snakes to those who are not scientists ); Erik Pearson is Walling, a zoologist currently studying guinea pigs; Bob Sanders is Sloan, a Bible-thumping "archeo-theologist" who believes that the Irish are the Lost Tribes of Israel; and Guy Wicke is Percy, an explorer who believes he has discovered the East Pole.

Enter Elizabeth Rude as Phyllida Spotte-Hume, a female explorer ( gasp! ) who has recently found a legendary Lost City and wishes to join the club. She has brought back with her one of the tribesmen, whom she calls Luigi. Played by Frank Gasparro in blue body paint striped tribally, Luigi is a politically incorrect scene-stealer. As the "feral man" explores the Explorers Club while others talk, it's difficult to keep your eyes off of him. Gasparro is having so much fun that he keeps us laughing throughout a sometimes too-efficient expository first act. As it ends, in fact, an officious Queen's secretary ( pompously played by Edward Kuffert ) is threatening to wipe out the Lost City with the British army after Luigi slapped the queen. ( Don't ask; see the show to understand. )

Luigi, though he is intelligent, is seriously politically incorrect, from his gait to his language to his repeated actions to his hilarious explorations. No real effort is made to mask this; if you are easily offended, stay away. Another possible issue is the treatment of women, although that can be explained as a subtle jab at the truth of its time. Some of the dialogue about Phyllida would bring lawsuits today, not to mention her potential exclusion from the club.

This is all played out on one the the finest small theater sets you'll want to see. Scenic Designer Jose Manuel Díaz-Soto has created a first-rate clubhouse featuring wood trim everywhere, and Properties Manager Mark Holley has filled it with enough artifacts to keep audience members busy during intermission. Costume Designer Paul Kim also went to town: all of these people look perfect for their roles and era.

It may not be the most PC play of the year, but The Explorers Club will definitely make you laugh—and that's what you go to see farces for, isn't it?


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