"The Explorer's Club"

Mike Frye, from left, Robert Hawkes, Corey Knick, Tiffany Trapnell, Colin P. McCauley, Mark Rabkin, Curt Arnold and Assad Khaishgi   

Photo / Terry Schordock

The Explorer’s Club is a scholarly establishment where the greatest scientific minds of 1879 England gather. Its headquarters – a place where the vines of coma-inducing plants have overrun the halls – is as bizarre as its members.

Such is the world created by Nell Benjamin for her quirky, silly and outrageous “The Explorer’s Club” and the appeal of Clague Playhouse’s amusing production of it.

Phyllida has just discovered the Lost City of Pahatlabong and brought a native of the tribe, Luigi, to England to present to the Queen. She hopes that her discoveries will land her a place in the all-male Explorer’s Club. But when Luigi accidentally insults the Queen, it becomes the job of the Explorer’s Club to disguise Luigi and prevent a war.

Not an easy task, considering the outrageous personalities and odd scientific obsessions of its members.

Director Anne McEvoy clearly encourages her cast to embrace the exaggeration and playfulness found in the script.

Acting president of the Explorer’s Club, Lucius Fretway, has an unhealthy obsession with plants and Phyllida, but his shy nature keeps him from making a move. Corey Knick plays this role with a sweetness and sincerity that is adorable.

As a woman scientist in the Victorian era, Phyllida needs to be a strong and independent force. Luckily, she is played by Tiffany Trapnell with all the fire and gumption the character requires.

The rather unlikable, know-it-all Harry Percy has just returned from his discovery of the East Pole. Mark Rabkin imbues the character with a delightful pompous air that adds humor to the unpleasantness.

Professor Walling and Professor Cope cannot be friends, given their respective passion for guinea pigs and snakes, which are natural enemies. But they can be very funny in the hands of actors Curt Arnold and Mike Frye, whose over-dramatic reaction to when their animals get a little too close is downright hilarious.

Professor Sloane is a serious and solemn religious scholar who is stuck in his ways. Robert Hawkes is totally convincing in the role. So is Colin P. McCauley as Luigi, whose character is prone to emoting with great exaggeration and grandeur to depict his savage nature and unfamiliarity with the English language.

The Queen’s Secretary, Sir Bernard Humphries, and a former Explorer’s Club member, Beebe, played by Assad Khaishgi and Tyson Douglas Rand, respectively, are entertaining additions to the show.

Each character is clothed in period-appropriate active adventurer wear by costume designer Meg Parish. The set, designed and decorated with care by Ron Newell, consists of a center stage bar surrounded by seating designated for relaxing and conducive to casual scientific chatter. A few surrounding book shelves contain a variety of knick-knacks, artifacts and texts.

During flashback scenes in which club members describe past adventures, lighting designer Lance Switzer and sound designer Andrew Gluvna collaborate to supply the necessary ambience.

As Phyllida can attest, gaining membership to the Explorer’s Club is no easy feat. Fortunately, buying a ticket to observe “The Explorer’s Club” is and will be just as rewarding.

This review is supported by a Cleveland State University civic engagement grant.

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