Review: “The Explorers Club” (Windy City Playhouse)

Alex Goodrich and Cristina Panfilio/Photo: Michael Brosliow
Alex Goodrich and Cristina Panfilio/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Show: The Explorers Club

Company: Windy City Playhouse

Venue: Windy City Playhouse (3014 W Irving Park Rd)

Die Roll: 5

Set during the reign of Queen Victoria, in her native England, Nell Benjamin’s witty, fun, and silly play “The Explorer’s Club” has taken over the stage at the Windy City Playhouse and turned it into the barroom of an exclusive gentlemen’s club dedicated to the pursuit of all things scientific.

The titular club is clearly supposed to be a prestigious body, the membership of which is elite, white, and male.  One might wonder, however, how one gains admittance into the membership.  The very beginning of the play leads us to believe that these are men of science, as they join in a toast of “For Science”.  Yet, none of the club’s members seem to be brilliant minds.  In truth they may each represent the least competent members of each of their fields of study.

Ryan Imhoff and Wesley Daniel/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Ryan Imhoff and Wesley Daniel/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Only Lucius (Alex Goodrich), a mild-mannered botanist, seems to be any good at what he does. He is also the male protagonist of this play– handy that.  The conflict within the piece really gets its start when Lucius nominates a woman for membership in the club.  This move is unheard of, and not well-received, in the eyes of the other men.  Yet, they do allow Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Cristina Panfilio) to present her findings on a lost civilization which she has recently discovered.  A true anthropologist and explorer of the Victorian mold, she has brought a native of that lost civilization back with her to London to present to the Queen.

The play shifts from light comedy to full-on farce when Luigi (Wesley Daniel), the aforementioned native, slaps the Queen in the face as part of his people’s traditional greeting.  After that event, the club is placed under siege by the Queen’s guard, invaded by a militant former member, and surrounded by angry Irish Catholics who were recently informed by a club member that they’re actually Jewish and should relocate to Palestine.

Not unlike any farce, the troubles brought upon the characters are caused by their own behavior.  Often one lie piles atop another.  Refreshingly, in this farce it isn’t dissembling that leads to each complication, but total immersion in a society of ineptitude.  Each error, fallacy, or assumption takes the play further down the path of hilarity.

Don’t assume that as a farce this show has nothing to say.  While generally it is entertaining, silly fluff, the playwright has a wicked wit that skewers the misogynistic society of that time, as well as today.  By the end of the play, only the woman is man enough to make sure that everything resolves itself as it ought.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Silliness perpetrated by inept gentlemen scientists and one skillful woman.

RATING: d12 – “Heckuva Good Show”