A review of the uproarious “Explorers Club,” by Nell Benjamin, at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre.
Just imagine what would happen if a woman were proposed for membership in a stuffy, 19th-century London club for snobby male explorers. In Taproot’s latest production, the result is sheer mayhem, outrageous sight gags, laugh lines that never quit and one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in some time on Seattle stages.
The explorers have willingly faced jungle beasts and Arctic storms, but when one of them suggests accepting a woman into their sacrosanct club, these pompous eccentrics who revel in their supposed accomplishments fall back in horror.
Playwright Nell Benjamin has brought us a unique cluster of oddball explorers. One walks around with his body wrapped in a cobra, another carries a live guinea pig and one spouts biblical passages. All sip their drinks with self-satisfied appreciation within the wood-paneled confines of their musty club. There, animal heads line the walls and skins serve as rugs and upholstery. This is not the place, in the explorers’ minds, for a member of the “weaker” sex.
‘The Explorers Club’
Through Feb. 28, Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle; $25-$40 (206 781-9707 or taproottheatre.org).
Phyllida, the female anthropologist charmingly played by Hana Lass, has just returned from the wilds where she discovered a lost tribe. To prove her accomplishment and to amaze her countrymen, she’s brought back with her an untamed member of that group.
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The contrast between the two is noteworthy. She’s impeccably dressed and exhibits all the grace of the English upper class. She is also no dope. As an anthropologist she is equally capable of ingratiating herself into a tribe of English misogynists as she is into a tribe of native people.
Of course Bill Johns as “Luigi,” her tribesman, has none of her graces. His manic portrayal, though a stereotype, is uproarious. He hops from table to chair, makes odd noises and inappropriate gestures, has painted himself blue, and surprisingly makes a really fine bartender.
This play might be considered politically incorrect for its depiction of native people. But here it’s the stuffy and complacent British explorers who are the buffoons. Luigi is just funny.
The actors playing the oddball scientists — Conner Neddersen, Solomon Davis, Rob Martin and Robert Gallaher — do it with nimble humor, appropriate props and sometimes vacuous faces. Ryan Childers, as another club member, takes pomposity and stupidity to exalted heights.
One of the clever sight gags here occurs when Luigi, hidden behind the bar, quickly adopts the role of bartender. He gives whole new meaning to the phrase “slinging drinks.”
Director Karen Lund has drawn together the agile cast, masters of this fast-paced, Marxian (brothers?) humor. Mark Lund’s set captures the era. Sarah Burch Gordon’s costumes reinforce the plot.
It’s madcap lunacy at Taproot right now.