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Theater review: Mad Horse does madcap well with a very funny farce

Theater review: Mad Horse does madcap well with a very funny farce
07 May
11:58

What do a British gentlemen’s club, a woman scientist, a savage, the private secretary to the queen, an Irish assassin and a decapitating warrior monk have in common? They all come together to make a recipe for laughter.

Mad Horse Theatre is offering a welcome respite from overt seriousness, closing out its 32nd season with Nell Benjamin’s riotous “The Explorers Club.”

Set in London in 1879, the play is a jolly good time from start to finish, beginning with Matt Ferrel’s reimagined gentlemen’s club, the Explorers Club. It greets the audience with a treasure trove of curiosities that can’t help but bring a smile. Stag heads, pinned bugs, old photographs, bows, arrows and Union Jack flags adorn the walls. Globes, books and oddities line bookshelves and taxidermy animals – including a cat snoozing by the fireplace and two possums in flagrante delicto next to the bar – decorate the lounge.

The engaging set is a teaser for the fun to come in the sharp-witted farce. When acting club head Lucius Fretway (Burke Brimmer), a botanist, proposes that the all-male club welcome brilliant woman scientist Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Janice Gardner) into its midst, their preposterous world rapidly disintegrates into hilarity. With a terrible bartender, how will they ever make a proper decision?

Adding to the fun, Phyllida brings a native from her latest expedition, Luigi (Thomas Campbell), to London to meet the Queen, and he’s accustomed to saying “hello” with a slap across the face.

Mad Horse revels in poking fun at the antiquated “boys club” mentality that still nips at our society’s heels today, employing a superbly cast collection of quirky characters to unravel notions of class, sexuality and god-given superiority. Along with Lucius, the club members include Professor Sloane (Jake Cote), a scientist of biblical studies who thinks the Irish are Jewish; Professor Cope (Jason LeSaldo), a herpetologist obsessed with snakes; Professor Walling (James Patefield), who studies guinea pigs and small prey; and Brent Askari as Sir Harry Percy, the club’s “gentleman” explorer.

The club members play off each other with infectious mirth that keeps the laughter flowing and the underlying commentary bubbling to the surface. Gardner fuels the humor in dual roles as Phyllida and her society-climbing sister, Countess Glamorgan, verbally sparring with astute wit.

Campbell delivers few words, but plenty of amusement as Luigi. Like the set, he offers background entertainment, amusing the audience even when he’s not the center of attention. And, his bartending techniques are definitely a sight to see – and apparently taste – begging the question for his character, “Who’s really the savage?”

Jody McColman and Paul Haley round out the cast, with McColman portraying the queen’s man, Sir Bernard Humphries, and Haley in the dual roles of an Irish assassin and Explorer Club member turned warrior monk, Beebe. Both serve as amusing antagonists, with Haley dishing out the perfect combination of physical humor and dry wit as Beebe.

Christine Marshall directs a production that’s nonstop laughs, with a cast that really knows how to deliver a farce. So, hold onto your drinks, snakes, guinea pigs, bicorne hats and heads. “The Explorers Club” is a wild comedy ride, packed with sardonic societal commentary.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ahboyle

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