Recommended *** I have fallen in love with one of Chicago’s “black box” theaters. It is The Windy City Playhouse” located on one of the busiest streets on the North Side, Irving Park Road. This is an old warehouse or factory that has been gutted and re-shaped into a bustling theater that is launching its new season with an English Comedy, “The Explorers Club”, a kind of silly “very British” comic look at a Gentlemen’s Club and its members, written by Nell Benjamin. I will say, the script itself is lacking a bit, which is why the overall rating is “only” recommended. The acting and superb direction by David H. Bell (always a pleasure to see his work on any stage) would raise this easily to ****.
Young comic actor Alex Goodrich, who just continues to grow as an actor plays Lucius, a staunch member of this full male club, and acting president, has invited Phyllida Spotte-Hume ( the lovely Cristina Panfilio) to attend their meeting, and become a member in this all male society. It seems that she has discovered a new race of people, spoon-worshipers along the Blue NaKong and she has brought one of these people for an audience with Queen Victoria. Most of the other members of this association, a group of men who consider themselves “explorers/scientists”, are not very keen on this idea either. These characters played by Matt Browning, Zack Shornick and Dan Rodden add some lively flavor to the story. The other explorer that is also in the running to win the affection of Phyllidia is Percy (deftly handled by Ryan Imhoff) who has recently come back after losing some of his men on an expedition to discover the East Pole.
Phyllidia’s native, Luigi, as it turns out, is one of the key players in this silly little plot. Wesley Daniel, a very athletic and limber young man, leaps over the bar, does somersaults, leaps on the furniture and becomes their bartender with some very clever and well timed action. Leave it to Bell to be creative and the sure hands of this well suited cast of actors. The other cast members are Colin Morgan as Humphries, who is sent by the Queen after a mis-hap with Luigi to declare war on the Nakong natives, and Graham Emmons who plays an Irish Assassin as well as the lost explorer, left behind by Percy, Beebe, as he returns. Ms Panfilio also portrays her sister, the Countess in a very funny and somewhat confusing scene.
On a set designed by Scott Davis, the theater has been converted into a stately high ceilinged club. Most of our time is spent in the bar-room where the action takes place. In fact, before the play begins, during the intermission and at the conclusion of same, this is a practical bar where drinks are served. The costumes (Lee Fiskness), sound (Jeffrey Levin) , costumes (Jeremy W. Floyd) and properties (Jamie Karas) all add to making this production solid and smooth-sailing. The movement/fight co-ordinators Wesley Daniel and Max Fabian brought a lot to the action of Bell making this a solid production. As I had stated earlier, the actors, direction and tech are far better than the script for this very funny production. Some of the ideas that are brought to the attention of the audience involve some thoughts about certain populations and religions, that are far from actual. I will not get into the actual items as that would ruin some of the surprises in store for you. This is typical “British Comedy” with great slapstick, an inane storyline and some characters that will make you forget anything bothering you while you laugh your A _ _ off!
The production runs roughly two hours in two acts with an intermission that seemed to have been closer to 20 minutes. If you have never been to the Windy City Playhouse, this is a very comfy venue with great sight lines, the most comfortable of seats and space to make you feel as if you are in your own private theater. This production will continue through April 17th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
On Saturday 3/26 there will be an added 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $25- $55 and are available by calling 773-891-8985 or visiting www.windycityplayhouse.com/the-explorers-club/
The theater is located at 3014 West Irving Park Rd in Chicago. Easy to get to by public transportation. There is plenty of street parking, some metered, a great deal FREE. In fact, I have ALWAYS found a free spot just around the corner.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Explorers Club”