July 17, 2013

The Explorers Club is a Delightful Discovery

I'm back and I bring news of something light and breezy and perfect for summer theatergoing. Because it would be hard to find a more buoyant offering than The Explorers Club, the airy comedy that is playing at Manhattan Theatre Club’s NY City Center Stage I through Aug. 4.  

The plot, such as it is, centers around what happens when a snooty Victorian-era men’s club, populated by eccentric scientists and pompous adventurers, is faced with the question of whether to admit a woman whose scientific feat—discovering a long lost city—seriously trumps the more dubious accomplishments of the club’s male members. 

Of course “seriously” is the wrong word here for playwright Nell Benjamin, who co-wrote the music and lyrics for Legally Blonde, is playing it strictly for laughs. And she whips feminist politics, class strife, Irish rebels, Tibetan monks, an audience with the Queen and the art of cocktail making into a deliciously giddy confection.

Benjamin's invaluable comrade-in-arms in this endeavor is director Marc Bruni, whose work on Old Jews Telling Jokes proves that he knows how to turn what might seem corny material into something altogether cool. There’s a physical comedy bit in The Explorers Club so ingeniously entertaining that it deserves its own award.

It and the show’s other hijinks are performed by a crackerjack nine- member cast who aren’t afraid to look silly. First among equals are David Furr, a hoot as the club's blowhard leader who claims to have found the East Pole; the always-hilarious John McMartin as an old-fogey "archaeo-theologist" and Carson Elrod, who almost steals the show as a blue-hued and Mohawk-haired native of the long lost city nicknamed Luigi.  

I say Elrod almost steals the show, because Jennifer Westfeldt, beautifully dressed by Anita Yavich, is totally commanding as the show's sole woman. But even the set by Donyale Werle has its own goofy charms.  Make sure to check out the rug on the floor (click here to read more about it). 

Some scolds will fuss about the show’s un-p.c. elements—the Luigi character could be offensive if he weren’t so clearly a send-up of all the old noble savage tropes. And if Elrod and his cohorts weren’t so damned funny.  The woman sitting next to me laughed so hard that she snorted.  I didn’t mind cause the noise she made covered my own guffaws.

No comments: