By Daniel Skora
Travis W. Walter has a habit of opening up the Meadow Brook season with a play that has “scope”: themes and production values that stretch the boundaries of what can be expected from local theatre. Several years ago, he put on shows with autumn/fantasy themes, like “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Last year’s play had even greater scope, with “Around the World in Eighty Days” giving local theatre its first look at a steampunk set design and enough scenes changes to satisfy the show’s title. Each of the shows had sets that would do Broadway proud. This year, in celebration of Meadow Brook’s fiftieth year of operation, he offers up yet another show with “scope”.
“The Explorers Club” is a comedy about a British gentlemen’s adventure club where men do the things men do and women are not welcomed. The male members beat their chests over adventures real and imagined, smoke their cigars, and enjoy drinks prepared to their liking. Into their midst walks Phillida Spotte-Hume, (Cheryl Turski), a woman with not only the credentials to prove she’s qualified to join the club, but bringing with her a bona-fide native she has plucked from the wild lands. She’s named him Luigi (Lucas Wells), and with his Smurf-blue skin, Mohawk-like headdress, and habit of sniffing out people to register their persona, he stands to be the strangest “trophy” anyone has ever brought back to the club. Debate among the members begins immediately.
Lucius Fretway (Rusty Mewha) is all for her joining since he has developed a crush on her. Harry Percy (Wayne David Parker), who lays claim to having discovered the East Pole, thinks only he has the right stuff to satisfy her. Professor Cope (Phil Powers), never seen without his snake, and Professor Walling (Chip DuFord) always protective of his hamster Jane, are too occupied with their pets (both of whom will eventually meet eye-to-eye with disastrous consequences) to pay any mind on who can join or not. Professor Sloane (Hugh Maguire), a clergyman, is dead set against diluting the club’s masculine pool. Two characters appear intermittently throughout the show: Sir Bernard Humphries (Thomas D. Mahard), an emissary from the queen, and Beebe (Craig Bentley), an explorer once thought to be lost and now is found.
The real fun begins when the men attempt to integrate Luigi into the operation of the club. Shenanigans conjured up by the goofy club members you have not seen since perhaps the last time you watched a Marx Brothers’ film. A bit that will be impossible to forget occurs when they train Luigi to become the bartender, and he delivers cocktails by launching them off the bar like rockets into the general direction of their recipients.
Sharing credits with the actors is the set, the great room of the explorers club. Designed by Kristen Gribbin, it’s a work of art, larger than your rich uncle’s living room and more elegant than the assembly rooms of most state governments. Well, maybe not that. It contains two full-sized African trophies (a water buffalo and some sort of exotic antelope) two trophy heads, and a set of antlers with enough points to hang more than a dozen hats. Six floor-to-ceiling columns grace the room, comfortable arm chairs are scattered about, and a staircase leads to the upstairs bedrooms. A giraffe-skin lays spread on the floor, tail still attached. “The Explorers Club” is a way to enjoy some of our finest local talent appearing together in a single show. The plot is thin, the comedy thick, and if the members can’t find it in themselves to let you join the club, at least you’ll have a marvelous time peeking in through that imaginary fourth wall.
This is a special year for Meadow Brook Theatre. They begin their fiftieth year of presenting quality theatre, all on the campus of Oakland University. In case you are interested, the theatre seats 584, their first official production was “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” by Bertolt Brecht, and their annual production of “A Christmas Carol” has been part of their holiday tradition for 33 years. These and many more facts can be found in “Fifty Years of Meadow Brook Theatre”, a wonderfully illustrated book just published by Arcadia Press and available at the theatre.
“The Explorer’s Club” is by Neil Benjamin. The show is directed by Travis W. Walter with costumes by Liz Goodall. The show runs through November 1st. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 248-377-3300 or going online to www.ticketmaster.com Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester MI.