LCP’s ‘Explorers Club’ discovers feminism, comedy in madcap show
By Marilyn Jozwik
Published Jan. 30, 2019
There is a lot of poking fun in “The Explorers Club” at Lake Country Playhouse. The show is directed by Diane Powell and Ed Sarna.
First and foremost is the aforementioned club, a group of amateur scientists gathering at the bar of their clubhouse in 1879 London. The entire cast created very distinctive characters, extracting all the humor from Nell Benjamin’s clever script.
All the performers have a lot to work with considering the eccentric scientists and their wacky ideas, including the discovery of the “East Pole.” But when a potential member -- a woman-- is brought in by the meek botanist Lucius (Zachery Klahn) to present her significant findings, most in the club are up in arms, especially the self-righteous Professor Sloane, played with a perfect haughty demeanor by Paul Weir, who quotes the Bible, saying, “‘Beware the evil woman.’” Sloane also believes the 10 lost tribes of Israel actually ended up in Ireland.
The woman, Phyllida (Katie Krueger), has peacefully captured a jungle native from a lost city and brought him to the meeting. The man (Mike Crowley), whom she calls “Luigi,” creates all sorts of humorous scenarios throughout a couple days, including a bit of slapstick and a lot of slick bartending. Crowley hits the funny bone with his impish portrayal.
Luigi puts Phyllida and club members in jeopardy after an unfortunate incident with Queen Victoria, which puts a snake lover (Logan Milway) and guinea pig owner (Jim Baker) at odds, and brings the Queen’s emissary (Jeffrey Seelig) – and a horde of troops -- to their clubhouse to mete out punishment. Both Harry (representing the chauvinistic side) and Lucius (more the feminist) have their caps set for Phyllida. Lucius, sweetly, has even named a plant after her. Their rivalry plays out until the very end.
Like an avalanche, Act II barrels along with the boorish Harry (John F. Reilly) being paid a surprise visit by an expedition companion – whom he had “lost”—returning to seek revenge. The pole-weapon wielding explorer, played with wide-eyed deranged energy by Eric Starr, harasses Harry all over the stage while British troops await outside and the blue-tinged Luigi hides in plain sight.
Along the way, writer Benjamin takes jabs at the British Empire, science, and chauvinism, but unfortunately the main character, the highly competent, Phyllida, gets lost in the shuffle with all the madcap proceedings.
There are lots of wonderful scenes here, well-delivered by a first-rate cast – Reilly’s bearded Percy laden with the trappings of an explorer describing a flock of birds, Klahn as the unassuming Lucius lovingly musing over his plants, Weir’s Sloane delivering a sincere eulogy for a member’s pet.
Krueger is a delight to watch in her scenes, giving her over-achieving Phyllida lots of spunk, with a nice touch of comedy.
Reilly’s Harry is big and bombastic, his scenes taking over the stage, while Milway’s snake-loving Cope plays his bemused character to perfection. Baker is nicely understated as he totes his beloved guinea pig, spouting theories such as, “Science is the great equalizer.”
Seelig, as the Queen’s emissary, is suitably stuffy and authoritative, adding another fine performance to the club.
David Powell has created a set of indigo and deep purple walls with lots of props to effectively simulate The Explorer’s Club’s environment, including a mounted deer’s head, an animal skin wall-hanging, a picture of Queen Victoria above the bar, a cobra statue, potted palm plants and the Union Jack flag. Costume designer Heather Patterson also enhances the show with outfits befitting the era and characters.
If you go
Who: Lake Country Playhouse
What: “The Explorer’s Club”
When: Through Feb. 10
Where: 221 E. Capitol Drive, Hartland
Info/Tickets: lakecountryplayhousewi.org; 262-367-4697