It’s 1879, Victoria is in her 42nd year on the throne (and still has more than 20 years to go), the British Empire is at its height, the Industrial Age has led to new technologies and the upper-classes are delighted to claim the world for their own. It is inconceivable they will not dominate culture for centuries.
Well, as it turned out, barely a few more decades. The empire collapsed (they almost lost neighbor Scotland last year) and other cultures had a way of resisting domination — even the savages, it turns out, are not as vulnerable as overly confident explorers.
It’s from this framework that The Explorers Club unravels its farcical plot. A woman (Dana Schultes) has dared threaten the gender barrier of this clique, having returned to London with Luigi (Michael Ulmer, who makes feral fabulously funny), a native of a lost tribe somewhere in the jungle. But when Luigi slaps the queen (a perfectly acceptable greeting in his homeland), it triggers an international incident that begins to show the chinks in the British Empire.
The Explorers Club is a farce that does not rely (much, at least) on broad physical comedy, slamming doors, mistaken identity or sexual desire to keep audiences laughing, although each time it does delve into those arenas it succeeds. (A stunt with cocktail glasses warrants spontaneous applause — several times).
From Thomas Ward’s blowhard ignoramus to Mark Shum’s milquetoast guinea pig lover to John Kyle Igneczi’s half-crazed assassin (two, actually), the cast expertly navigates Nell Benjamin’s smart script that touches on religion vs. science, sexism and cultural imperialism. Director Jim Covault — who mounted the same production last year at Stage West — delivers a confectionary delight.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road. Through Feb. 8. WaterTowerTheatre.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 23, 2015.