The Explorators Club
Staged at the St. Francis Centre, 78 Church Street South, Ajax
Written by Werner F. Schmidt, Produced by: Sarah-Liis Salonius/Ajax Community Theatre, Stage Managed by: Eren Barnett, Directed by: Nancy Palumbo
by Velika Maxam
An elderly band of bumbling adventure seekers converge to form The Explorators Club of Pilkinton-Wells, England (not to be mistaken with the Explorers Club of London) to share in their reverence for the likes of Polo, Magellen, Cartier, Amundsen, and of course Caldwell. Now in his 90s, President of the Explorators Club, and first to climb Mount Butterworth, Tom Caldwell lies dead on his settee surrounded by tokens of his great exploits, with his repose oblivious to those who serve his Arctic Institute well. The unforeseen discovery of his corpse, by his aged compatriots and potential beneficiaries armed with a hefty insurance policy, paired with the swift intrusion of the Amelia Earhart-esque adventure seeking Ruth Beekman, eager to dust off the gentlemen only club membership policy, proves quite the quandary for a few grumpy old men but madcap fun, and folly for Durham audiences, in Ajax Community Theatre’s newest production, The Explorators Club.
The cast of eight, comprised of some of Durham Region’s veteran actors, add to this entertaining explorer’s comedic adventure. Adorned in a red fedora, Ruth Beekman (Debborah Lobban) trail blazes onto the scene with spirit and fervour, with a walrus harpoon tranquilizer gun deep in her holster determined to make strides in a male dominated world. Add to the mix the Tilley toting wild trio of octo-sexa-septua-genarian club members, Secretary Ashcroft Sloan (Daniel Wyse), Fred Sheridan (Ian Speiran), and George Darnley (David Cooke) who together, in an effort to save the Caldwell legacy with an insurance claim hunt, desperately attempt, failingly, to finagle cadaver juggling with fiery girl power resistance, in as curmudgeonly a fashion, as they can muster.
What’s a comedy without an undertaker, the dapper Reese from O’Halloren, Shaughnessy and Kelly, who is eager to remove the body and sell his latest wares to the crestfallen of the dearly departed, played by Dillon Hunter, who marks his third performance on stage, as a budding new addition to local theatre. Backstage devotee Cathy Thompson, marks her return to the stage as Mr. Caldwell’s faithful housekeeper Sue Loften, who dutifully keeps the old boy's club fed and feisty, while thug nephew Sid Loften (Andy Roberts) proves to be the second act’s unexpected sardine guzzling guest highlight.
Make no mistake; the well designed set of cadaverous Caldwell’s common room, lends itself well to an English hunting den meets Colonel Mustard, adorned with snowshoes, globe, medals, skis and the piece de resistance, a genuine moose head mount. It’s a testament to Director Nancy Palumbo and so many impassioned community theatre set designers who ceaselessy seek out set pieces, to create a scene while staying on budget. The St. Francis Centre, home of A.C.T for the past 6 seasons, also poses a challenge for set design in that formerly a church, the stage is deep yet narrow. And yet with the aid of fellow set designer Dave Edwards, Nancy was able to make good use of space and colour with a multileveled set, conveying well the Explorators Club’s den like feel.
There are true moments of hilarity in this play, that revolve around the intended and unsuccessful disposal of the rigor mortis afflicted Caldwell off the terrace, and Ruth Beekman's empowered explorer leadership style alla Annie Oakley, as the heroine who forges the malcontented bunch out of folly. The actors all certainly add their own level of uniqueness, and style to their characters that were humourously composed with one common quirk, their ageless exploration fanaticism. The potential beneficiaries of Mr. Caldwell’s insurance policy, aging trio Fred, Ashcroft and George certainly convey in classic stuffy vintage style of short trouser pants, and bridge league savvy, the never-ending art of male bolstering. Author, zoology teacher and sure shot Ruth Beekman'sportrayal is never short on breaking the glass frontier, with her wit, picture frame straightening style and lethal use of force. Housekeeper Sue, nephew thug Sid, and undertaker Reese, all aid to bind together the myriad of misunderstandings, mishaps, and misfiring that make this a classic gem of a comedy.
The Explorators Club continues May 4, 5, 6, 2017 at 8pm, and tickets are available at the door before each performance or visit their website.