I regret getting to “The Explorer's Club” so late in the run. But it has been one of the hottest tickets in town—that is in New York City. Produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club at the NY's City Center, Stage 1, this witty comedy by Nell Benjamin runs only through Sunday, Aug 4. It doesn't give you much time-but if you can, hop on a train, grab a bus, and get to see this Off Broadway gem.
Every element of this show, which takes place in London in 1879, is excellent. Lawrence O'Keefe's lively score underscores the pace of Marc Bruni's clever direction. The cast, which boasts some of my favorites, is spot-on. There's Lorenzo Pisoni with whom I became enamored when he did his one man show, Humor Abuse, about growing up with his parents in their Pickle Family Circus. There's the venerable, forever young John McMartin, whose credits for both musicals and straight plays could fill a whole playbill, and the beautiful Jennifer Westfeldt, who amazes here in the part of the spunky Phyllida Spotte- Hume. She is also elegantly funny as Countess Glamorgan, Phyllida's twin sister.
Donyale Werle's incredible set, warmly lit in honey brown by Phillip Rosenberg, is replete with stuffed animals, shrunken heads a bar framed by giant ivory tusks, and a red leather tufted sofa: A perfect spot for brandy and cigars. We are privy to the annual meeting of all-male Explorer's Club, noted for having Roger, the worst bartender in the world. With a president like dumb Harry Percy (attractive David Furr), who has returned with all companions dead, claiming he has discovered the East Pole, it is no wonder they are losing in their competition with National Geographic. Lucius (Pisoni), a young fervent botanist, has proposed Phyllida for membership, which shocks the bible-toting Professor Sloane (McMartin), who is looking for the lost tribes. This wacky guy thinks women are sinners, etc.
Phyllida has discovered a Lost City deep in the jungle with an unpronounceable name and has brought back a native specimen, Luigi, played hysterically by Carson Elrod. Dressed in a bizarre bluish costume and high hair courtesy of Anita Yavich and Tom Watson, Luigi has a habit of slapping people in the face when questioned or when he sees spoons. He hits the Queen, all hell breaks loose, and Phyllida is asked by Sir Bernard Humphries, portrayed well by Max Baker, to draw a map so that they can invade and destroy the Lost City. She refuses and the game is on.
Other characters bringing laughter to the proceedings are Steven Boyer's Professor Walling who loves a guinea pig and Brian Avers' Professor Cope, who wears a live snake as a necklace. If there is one problem it is that there are several too many characters and too much happening. But that is the fun of The Explorer's Club, only through Sunday, Aug 4 at NY'S City Center on West 55th st.
(This production was filmed for the LC Performing Arts Library on August 1, 2013)