The Explorers Club Review – Tradition!

David Hunt Stafford, Michael Mullen, Daniel Leslie, Hovhannes John Babakhanyan, Christopher Franciosa, and Devin Dulude in THE EXPLORERS CLUB - Photo by Judi Lewin
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Written by Nell Benjamin, THE EXPLORERS CLUB was first produced off Broadway in 2013, where it received an Outer Critics Circle Award as Outstanding off-Broadway Play. Reviews were all over the map, ranging from “entertaining but lacking in substance (Charles Isherwood, New York Times)” to “wildly funny (Marilyn Stasio, Variety).” Benjamin is best known for a Tony nomination as lyricist and composer for the Broadway musical, “Legally Blonde.”

Kevin Dulude, Megan Lewis, and Matt Landig – Photo by Judi Lewin

The author indicated that THE EXPLORERS CLUB was inspired by a female high school friend who went on to receive a Ph.D. in astrophysics, which Benjamin deemed “tough…(due to) a dangerous anti-scientific anti-intellectual streak that runs through the world.” While gender might play a role in emerging problems, she felt that science was more likely the “culprit.” THE EXPLORERS CLUB, Benjamin’s first full length play, has been staged frequently since its debut, mainly in U.S. regional theaters. In 2024, Theatre Forty proudly presents THE EXPLORERS CLUB.

Matt Landig and Christopher Franciosa – Photo by Judi Lewin

The time is 1879, and the place is London. The prestigious Explorers Club is about the have a crisis. Acting President Lucius Fretway (Matt Landig) seems to be taken with Philida Spotte-Hume (Meghan Lewis), a brilliant, accomplished female explorer who discovered a legendary lost city, and has proposed that she be admitted into the exclusive all-male club. Soon, most of the other members, including Harry Percy (Christopher Franciosa), Professor Walling (Kevin Delude), and Professor Cope (Daniel Leslie) agree. But Professor Sloane (Michael Mullen) is quick to throw a monkey wrench into the works. After all, a mere female cannot possibly reach the high standards of Club membership.

David Hunt Stafford, Matt Landig, Meghan Lewis, Kevin Dulude, and Daniel Leslie – Photo by Judi Lewin

Things become even more complicated when Philida shows up with a “souvenir” from the lost city, a warrior chief from the lost tribe – in full regalia – whom she has named Luigi (Hovhannes John Babakhanyan); the next day, she will present the warrior to the Queen of England. Chaos ramps up as the Irish descend on the Club over a semantic glitch (Tara vs. Torah), the Queen’s Chief Secretary Sir Bernard Humphries (David Hunt Stafford) declares war, and the disappearing Mr. Beebe (John Combs) surfaces. All in a day’s work at the Explorers Club.

Skillfully directed by Melanie MacQueen, THE EXPLORERS CLUB is a fast-moving farce which will entertain and delight audiences. It is an elegant bit of fluff whose primary purpose is to bring the uproarious tale to life. The ensemble cast does a bang-up job of putting these silly fellows under the microscope, Special kudos for Babakhanyan, who never – not even for a moment – departs from his role as the hairy, tribal-speaking, barefoot warrior chief. With almost no words, he relies on every sort of non-verbal communication to hold the audience’s attention – and he does so adroitly, much to the amusement of the audience.

Matt Landig and Hovhannes John Babakhanyan – Photo by Judi Lewin

The production team also does an excellent job of keeping the action going. Jeff G. Rack has outdone himself with his set design, the perfect surrounding for a group of worldly adventurers and the perfect complement to Michael Mullen’s dazzling costumes. And, yes, Mullen has two roles in this production. THE EXPLORERS CLUB is one of Theatre Forty’s finest productions and boasts the perfect cast, the perfect setting, skilled direction, and great writing. This is perfect summer fare – light, hilarious, and entertaining – a must-see production.

Christopher Franciosa, Hovhannes John Babakhanyan, and John Combs – Photo by Judi Lewin

THE EXPLORERS CLUB runs through June 23, 2024, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (no performance on Friday 6/7; on Saturday 6/23, there will be a 2 p.m. matinee and no evening show). Theatre Forty performs in the Mary Levin Cutler Theatre (Beverly Hills High School), located at 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Tickets are $35. For information and reservations, call 310-364-0535 or go online.


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