Manic and jolly, ‘Explorers Club’ an audience delight

A jolly good production of a jolly good script.
'The Explorers Club' at Schenectady Civic features (left to right) Michael Schaefer, Joel A, Bramer and Nick Muscatiello. (Photo by Jennifer Moak)
'The Explorers Club' at Schenectady Civic features (left to right) Michael Schaefer, Joel A, Bramer and Nick Muscatiello. (Photo by Jennifer Moak)

After 10 minutes into “The Explorers Club,” I capped my pen.

Scribbling in the dark would have distracted from the manic goings-on on stage, and I was definitely not about to miss a nanosecond.

In a send-up of Victorian England reminiscent of Gilbert & Sullivan or Oscar Wilde, playwright Nell Benjamin introduces us to a quartet of science-loving Brits gathered at their club to hear about the exploits of one Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Cristine M. Loffredo). The intrepid woman has brought back Luigi (Joel A. Bramer), a bare-chested specimen of a primitive people from far away, and the two are shortly to have a meeting with Queen Victoria.

The Explorers Club

WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St., Schenectady

WHEN: Through Feb. 7


MORE INFO: 382-2081,

Now, it is all very well and good for Ms. Spotte-Hume to give a guest lecture, but the men declare her ineligible for membership — a woman, you know. Except Lucius (Jeff Lurie), a botanist and the interim club president, who is smitten with her.

Herpetologist Cope (Jason Biszick), guinea pig-loving Professor Walling (Tom Heckert), and Bible-toting Professor Sloane (Mark Stephens) stand firm in their opposition to the equality of the gentler sex.

With the arrival of the preening Harry Percy (Nick Muscatiello), a man who claims to have discovered the East Pole, things get even wackier than seems possible. For one thing, he begins to flirt with Phyllida. For another, the meeting with the Queen goes awry, and Sir Bernard Humphries (Michael Schaefer) is sent to convey bad news to Phyllida: war against the primitives for their insult to Her Majesty. Ah, Empire! Then both an Irish assassin and another explorer, Beebe (both played by Randy McConnach), suddenly appear, roiling the comic waters.

This merry romp, under the twinkling eye of director Mark Stephens, is played on a handsome set by Jeffrey Scott, who also serves as tech director. And Marcia Thomas & Joseph Fava’s costumes and Elise Charlebois’s props put us squarely in time and place.

In his program bio, Schaefer thanks “the rest of the cast for making this show more fun than should be legally allowed.” Indeed. Because they’re having such a good time, so did Friday’s audience, which gave them a standing O. The actors’ accents generally hold (with Stephens’s evidently from the southernmost part of the island), but it’s their ensemble work—physical interactions and snappy repartee — that impresses, nowhere more than in two scenes, one involving the distribution of drinks and the other featuring stogies with an additive. Priceless.

Special nods to Loffredo, whose turn as Phyllida’s brazen sister is as amusing as her turn as the spunky Phyllida is affecting. Bramer’s Luigi is a bit like that anarchic comedian Harpo Marx, his imitations, pantomiming, and guttural sounds providing running commentary as brilliantly as the great silent one did with a look, a gesture, and his horn. And Muscatiello is a comic genius. His clipped delivery and physical swagger increasingly make the strutting Percy an object of amusement the more he tries to become the Model of a Modern Hero.

A jolly good production of a jolly good script.

Categories: Entertainment, News

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