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A British farce, “The Explorers Club,” Produced by Davidson Community Players, Takes Center Stage at the Duke Performance Hall

by | Jul 24, 2023

​An eclectic coterie of English adventurers and their eccentric antics are on display in Nell Benjamin’s hilarious farce, The Explorers Club, the Davidson Community Players summer comedy at the Duke Family Performance Hall. At times, my ‘dahlings,’ the production can be a bit slow moving (even for a proper Brit) and much of the crucial action is too far back on the stage.

The tasteful set, full of touches and accents and designed by Dee Blackburn, is the perfect Nineteenth Century London bastion for intrepid male globe trotters, and should be on full display for the audience. But the bar, essential to the storyline, is located so far back it nearly misses the impact and the staircase could be put to greater use. Everything should be pushed forward so all can easily enjoy this beautiful set.

The Explorers Club is filled with so many hilarious lines that herpetologist Professor Cope, played by Dave

(Carrie Cranford photograph)

Gilpin, reaches the point to ponder, “what are we not talking about?”

Every member of the club exhibits unique explorer eccentricity, and Professor Cope is no exception. The only problem is that Rosie, the snake wrapped around his neck and torso, is so fake that even a preschooler knows it belongs in a child’s swimming pool. Surely, a better prop could have been found. Otherwise, Beth Killion’s authentic costume designs are terrific.

As the play opens, Botanist Lucius Fretway, performed by Jack Bruce, takes center stage to lead the explores annual meeting and verbal hi jinks begin. Professor Walling, a zoologist carrying Jane, his pet guinea pig, around in a cage, is skeptical.

But Fretway has other motives that evening and proposes membership for a woman into their club, the accomplished female anthropologist, Phyllida Spotte-Hume (for whom he secretly harbors amorous affection.)

Archeo-theologist Professor Walling played by Jim Esposito is outraged! “She’s a dangerous temptation to us,” he claims. No kidding!

(Carrie Cranford photograph)

All the explorers speak with acceptable-to-mediocre British accents. And Spotte-Hume, performed by Frannie Scott Williams,

delivers a pivotal soliloquy in an entertaining way, making a play for any guy who might facilitate her membership.

(Carrie Cranford photograph)

Phyllida arrives with Luigi, a NaKong tribesman played by young Jet Teasley with blue stripes painted across his face and naked upper body. His tribal skin is supposed to be blue, not white, and the designer could have used a blue tone for all the skin that is exposed, under the dark blue stripes. The young thespian delivers a great performance silently inspecting every inch of the stage and audience, too. What a tricky bartender! Teasley performs some of the best action in the show. Very nicely done.

Suddenly the outlandish, loud, and overbearing explorer, Harry Percy, played by Cale Evans,

(Carrie Cranford photograph)

arrives, announcing his return from an expedition to the East Pole. He recognizes Spotte-Hume and knows about her plan to introduce Luigi to the Queen.

All hell breaks loose. Cope’s snake escapes in pursuit of the beloved guinea pig, Jane. Fretway’s plants exhibit side-effects. Theologian Sloane departs to inform the Irish they really are Jewish and must move to Palestine. Outraged, an Irish Assassin, played by Brian Holloway, is dispatched to kill him.

Luigi is accused of slapping the Queen, his tribal customary greeting, causing Spotte-Hume to disappear when Sir Bernard Humphries, Private Secretary to Queen Victoria, played by Steve Schreur, arrives to arrest the two of them.

“Brandy and cigars are what separate us from the animals,” Percy declares. Apparently, that is how real English gentlemen solve troublesome issues!

The Explorers Club really is a funny play. You will enjoy the frolic directed by Todd Olson—certainly you can trust Nell Benjamin, the playwright. She co-wrote Legally Blonde which Davidson Community Players successfully produced last year, and the lyrics for Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Seats for The Explorers Club may be reserved for performances on the large stage at Davidson College’s Duke Family Performance Hall this week, Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock.

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