June 15 2016 12:22 AM

‘The Explorers Club’ serves up frantic fun

In less capable hands, “The Explorer’s Club,” staged by Over the Ledge Theatre Co., could easily be a disaster. Thanks to the deft direction of LeAnn Dethlefsen, this parody of upper-class British gentlemen’s clubs works — even if this genre is not your cup of Earl Grey tea.

The particularly creative cadre of nine loud and boisterous actors helps this play to sing. The absurd dialogue and overthe-top sight gags elicited laughter and appreciative applause. Dethlefsen is ably assisted in this adventure by set designer David Hackney and set dresser Kathleen Weldon, who built a posh 19th century clubhouse in the Ledges Playhouse. While the plot is illogical at best, the strength of the cast carries the show as the actors take turns sharing their unique versions of imperial pomposity.

Ian Whipp plays Luigi, a native captured and brought back from a land with an unpronounceable name by wannabe explorer Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Carissa Zielinski). Whipp steals many scenes with his imitations of British mannerisms. An early bar scene, where Luigi whips up mixed drinks with an animal-like energy, sets the tone for the rest of this bombastic bouquet of comic crazies.

Zielinski doubles as Phyllida’s twin sister, the Countess Glamorgan. Aided by costume changes and clever staging, Zielinski deftly draws distinctions between these twin characters.

Phyllida is hoping that tales of her travels, and her captured specimen, will earn her a membership in the male-only club of inept explorers. While she makes her case to members appalled at the idea of a woman in the club, she must also fight off the advances of members whose interests in her lie less in the clubhouse and more in the bedroom.

Womanizing world traveller Harry Percy (Jeff Kennedy) competes against mild-mannered botanist Lucius Fretway (Zach Riley). Harry is obnoxiously full of himself and fully unaware of the impact he has on others, while Riley is intensely unimaginative.

Meanwhile, three other “professors,” each one representing a different scholarly pursuit, add quirky bits of their own. Professor Sloane (Rick Dethlefsen) is a bible-quoting “archeotheologist,” Professor Cope (Mike Shalley) has an unnatural affinity for snakes and Professor Walling (Gabriel Francisco) is known for his unorthodox experiments with guinea pigs.

Chris Goeckel, as Sir Bernard Humphries wanders into this collage of cuckoos with pomp and circumstance, and explorer Beebe (Justin Brewer) makes a fashionably late entrance, bringing this play to an even higher level of bizarre behavior.

“The Explorers Club” takes no prisoners. Those who are initially resistant to this silly style of frantic farce are eventually compelled to laugh at the onslaught of non-stop, well-done comic characterizations.

“The Explorer’s Club”

Over the Ledge Theatre Co. 8 p.m. Thursday, June 16-Saturday, June 18; 2 p.m. Sunday, June 19 $10/$8 seniors/$6 students. The Ledges Playhouse 137 Fitzgerald Park Drive, Grand Ledge (517) 318-0579, overtheledge.org

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