“THE EXPLORERS CLUB” a wild and crazy farce

Missing Event Data

DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]

Theatre Jacksonville opened the “The Explorers Club,” a wild and crazy farce, at 2032 San Marco Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida on April 22, 2016. The production will run through May 7; visit theatrejax.com or call 904 396-4425 for additional information and reservations.

Playwright Nell Benjamin wrote this comedy, which will take you back to Victorian England in the most captivating way. If you are a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas or Monty Python episodes, you’ll love this show. Or if you just like frothy, frivolous comedy, this is the ticket for you.

12994574_10153520089025205_1361383622440878986_nThe action takes place in an exclusive men’s club in London in 1879, and the setting is rich with the detail you would expect to find in an enclave of macho men of the era. The decor includes animal heads, hunting trophies, and a prominent bar, all created by the talented David Dawson, who was also the lighting and technical director.

The bonding rituals of the club members largely involve reporting on their research and discoveries, along with indulging in spirits and cigars. These insular customs are disrupted when Phyllida Spotte-Hume, a guest 13007233_10153520081300205_7086231797640145179_nspeaker arrives. She is a noted anthropologist, who has returned to London after finding the lost city of Pahatlabong and is accompanied by a tribal native. And she wants to join the club, a request which some members find totally and unequivocally shocking. Of note, women’s struggles to gain acceptance into male domains continued for many years after the setting of the play; we can recall two local groups that began accepting women members only after rule changes in more recent times: Toastmaster’s in 1973 and the Southside Businessmen’s Club in 1996.

A look at the over the top characters in the play follows:

Amber Grayson is the bright, attractive, and adventurous Phyllida Spotte-Hume who dares to challenge the entrance rules of the crusty old club. Ms.Grayson appeared in TJ’s “Always a Bridesmaid” last season. Unfortunately for our local stages, this talented actress and her family will be leaving Jacksonville and moving to San Diego after this show.

Neal Thorburn is Lucious Fretway, a bashful botanist, who is the club’s president. He introduces Phyllida to the group and supports her membership; he eventually falls in love with her. Fretway is devoted to his plants, and has perfected one that is poisonous, which plays an important part in the second act. Thorburn was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his comic role in TJ’s production of “Figaro” in 2015.

13015547_10153520087820205_7512000199114429317_nJeff Grove portrays zoologist Professor Walling who is (perhaps overly) attached to Jane, his pet guinea pig. Grove has taught theatre at Stanton College Prep School for thirty years, and has been involved in all aspects of theatre as an actor, director, and writer. He co-authored seven plays which have collectively received almost four hundred productions in the US and overseas.

Michael Porter is the truly wacky Professor Sloane, a biblical scholar and explorer, who contends all women are sinful and evil. He delivers a hilarious eulogy for a dead animal that is priceless. Mr. Porter has appeared on stage with several local theatres over the years and he wrote, cast, and produced a version of “Christmas Carol” that was previously broadcast on local cable.

13029528_10153520086785205_473443188887302375_oAs the ruthless and flamboyant explorer Harry Percy, Matt Tompkins is picture perfect for the rule. Tomkins is a fine comedian and is probably the busiest actor in Jacksonville, going from show to show. He recently appeared in the acclaimed “St. George and the Dragon” in Ponte Vedra as Tumble, and is currently learning the lines for the lead role in the upcoming “Shipwrecked” at Players by the Sea, which opens June 3, 2016.

Rounding out club members is Christopher Watson as Professor Cope, a herpetologist who has a snake named Rosie as his constant companion. This appearance is Watson’s Theatre Jacksonville debut, and he brought frenetic energy to the role. He also brought the snake, which had the head of a cobra and the body of a thin boa constrictor, to life with convincing movements.

Paul Jason Baker, who was the uproarious porter in TJ’s “Twentieth Century,” is the jungle warrior, complete with blue body paint and tattoos, who has travelled from Pahatlabong to London with Phyllida. His native name is unknown, as Phyllida has renamed him ‘Luigi.’ Somehow, this agile uncivilized savage, who was introduced to Queen Victoria and offended her with a slap, winds up as the club’s bartender. Don’t ask how; the play is after all a farce.

13055880_10153520085165205_8279729666073157584_oMichael Ray is Sir Bernard Humphries, the Queen’s official government representative. Ray is a fine comedian and has an impressive TJ resume with his appearances as Signor Naccarelli in “Light in the Pizza,” as Vince Lombardi in “Lombardi,” and as Sam in “Hilda’s Yard”.

David M. Gile does not appear until the second act, but it’s worth the wait. He makes a quick appearance as an Irish Assassin, but don’t blink, it is brief. He returns as Beebe, a monk and Tibetan terrorist, a very humorous character despite the name.

One of the funniest scenes in this play, which is audience-pleasingly repeated three times, occurs when Luigi (now the bartender), rapidly slides glasses filled with drinks across the bar, which requires quick catches by the actors.

Tracy Anne Olin made her Theatre Jacksonville directorial debut with “The Explorers Club.”  She majored in acting and directing while in college several years ago and has appeared as an actress on our local stages in many shows. Our all-time favorite was as Sally Bowles at Player’s by the Sea in “Cabaret.”  She is a talented and acclaimed costumer, having costumed some fifty shows, and as a result has worked with many different directors, gaining additional knowledge in the art of directing along the way.

13083083_10153520081885205_3012675142908801138_nA farce to be effective must be correctly paced, starting somewhat slowly, and building to the usual frantic ending. Tracy’s performance of this directorial magic was perfection. And she has assembled a terrific team to assist her with all this stage madness. Curtis Williams’s costumes capture the Victorian age. Darell Allen Morton was the set dresser who scouted and secured all those wonderful artifacts on the stage. Stage Manager Sabrina Rockwell kept things moving, so necessary for this genre. Mickey Leger once again offered his expertise in wigs. Audie Gibson was the light board operator; Mark Rubens was the sound board operator.

We highly recommend “The Explorers Club.” It is a handsomely cast farce, precisely tooled to make the most of the setting and plot.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.