The Explorers Club is a new comedy that aims low and misses. Despite having a cast made up of some of Atlanta’s finest talent, the production at Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre, on stage through April 19, doesn’t manage to squeeze out many laughs.
The play is set in 1879 at an exclusive London men’s club — a tweedy, old-school society for gentlemen explorers that is sent into an uproar when a smart and capable woman seeks to become the first female member, bringing with her a specimen of a distant tribe as evidence of her qualifications and experience.
The show seeks to poke fun at Victorian fustiness with whimsical humor that’s meant to accelerate into frenetic farce. The show can be occasionally charming, but it doesn’t really succeed on any of these counts.
First of all, it’s too talky. For much of the first act, I imagined that its wordiness was merely the set-up for forthcoming hijinks, that the playwright was doing the unfunny but crucial business of laying out the characters and situations for the madcap comedy soon to begin.
But even by intermission, madcap hadn’t arrived. Though Act II is meant to develop that sort of frantic lunacy, it ends up just feeling forced and effortful. Dusty, talky, expository quasi-jokes are pretty much the show’s M.O., and they stay with it throughout.
Old-fashioned attitudes about women and tribal cultures are held up for ridicule, but the humor around such is often of the contemporary, anti-PC Book of Mormon sort, rather than the truly cutting or insightfully clever kind.
It would be pleasant to report that Explorers Club is a fluffy, crowd-pleasing comedy, the type that cranky, pretentious critics hate but audiences adore, but I don’t even think this crowd was particularly pleased.
A lame sight-gag involving drinks sliding down a bar got the biggest laugh of the evening, and other chuckles were so few and far between that it occasionally seemed that much of the audience wasn’t even bothering to follow the silly and convoluted plot. A man in front of me fell asleep, and I wondered if he was dreaming about something interesting. I bet he was, the lucky bastard.