Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Explorer's Club sweeps into the Mad Cow with hilarity.

While walking downtown to go to The Explorer's Club dress rehearsal at the Mad Cow Theatre, I saw a fun run poster that announced, "We bring the hilarity to charity." This predicted the tone for the entire evening. Perhaps a dozen people sat in the audience for the dress rehearsal. Written by Nell Benjamin the show runs from January 22 through February 22.  The comedic farce debuted in NYC's off-Broadway in 2013.

It's a crisis in 1879 London when the members of the prestigious Explorers Club are threatened by the potential membership of...a woman! Eric Pinder as botanist Lucius Fertway is responsible for nominating the woman, who is the accomplished explorer, prim and proper Phyllida Spotte-Hume played by Heather Leonardi . She’s made an in-depth study, “NaKong Tribe of the Lost City of Pahatlabong,”.  “They have hunted nearly all the animals to extinction,” she reports, “and are forced to subsist on a jerky made of toad. The toad is poisonous. But most of the poison boils off when the toad is poached in urine.”she explained. The club members are all quite impressed, but Professor Sloane (Glenn Gover), a religious fanatic, sticks his nose in the air proclaiming her discoveries are fine but she is a woman and there has never been a woman in the Explorer's Club. When the men retire for cigars and sherry she is told she would have to wait outside.

Glen Glover, Simon Needham and Eric Pinder were all members of the cast at Walt Disney World's Adventurers Club. This was one of my favorite spots to visit when I used to work for Disney Feature Animation. The club was crowded with objects that were found from around the world. One huge mask on the wall used to make comments about patrons at the bar. Unfortunately, the Club was closed in 2008, along with all the other nightclubs in favor of retail stores and restaurants. When I saw the set in the Mad Cow by William Elliott, memories flooded back. The gazelles and masks in this club however remained sadly mute.

It turns out that Lucius has nominated the petite Phyllida because he has a crush on her. He went so far as to name an exotic flower after her. That attraction is mutual, but Club President Harry Percy (Simon Needham) decides that he is the brainless hulk of a man that Phyllida deserves. Although Phyllida confides in Lucius, Harry is sure that his swagger will win her over. She has brought back a member of the lost tribe who she has named Luigi (Ryan Gigliotti). He is covered in blue paint and has the annoying habit of slapping people in the face as a form of introduction. When he is brought before the queen of England, all hell breaks loose when he slaps her as well. Hilarity ensues as the intrepid explorers try to return God and country to normalcy. In their eyes, science will always win.

The director David Russell was seated a few rows behind me with his laptop. After the show he encouraged the cast to push the envelope in exploring the quirky lunacy of their parts. He seemed a bit disappointed that there wasn't more laughter from the audience. Since there were only a few people in the test audience, the sparse laughter was understandable. When there is a full house the story could be quite different. As a disguise, Luigi posed as the club's bartender. He mixed drinks using liquored of every imaginable color with no regard to a recipe. To serve the drink, he would shout, "Your drink sah!" and slide it quickly off the bar top. Club members had to dive to keep the drinks from crashing to the floor. David encouraged the players to avoid playing it safe. It a drink crashed to the floor it wouldn't be the end of the world. I was seated in the front row and there were moments when I thought I might be in the splash zone.

"The Explorers Club"
What: A comedy by Nell Benjamin
Where: Mad Cow Theatre, 54 W. Church St., Orlando
When: Opens Friday, Jan. 23; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and two Mondays, Feb. 2 and 9; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; through Feb. 22
Cost: $24.25-$36.75; $17 on Mondays
Call: 407-297-8788

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