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The set is the real star of the Manhattan Theatre Club world premiere of THE EXPLORERS CLUB (photo by Joan Marcus)

Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center Stage 1
Through July 21, $85

Evoking a number of classic Monty Python adventure skits (including the “Bruces” sketch and “The Lost World of Roiurama”), Nell Benjamin’s The Explorers Club is an immensely silly comedy set in Victorian-era England as a small gathering of explorers decide whether to accept its first female member. The wacky hijinks take place on Donyale Werle’s gorgeous set, featuring taxidermied animals hanging from the walls, a giraffe skin stretched across the floor, paintings of intrepid explorers, and a dazzling, fully stocked bar bookended by huge tusks; theatergoers are actually encouraged to snap photos of the stage and post them to social media sites before the show begins. Unfortunately, the set is the best thing about this goofy tale that regularly travels too far over the top. The Manhattan Theatre Club production stars Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein) as Phyllida Spotte-Hume, an explorer who is scheduled to present to the queen her latest finding, the very blue Luigi (Carson Elrod) from the NaKong tribe of the Lost City of Pahatlabong. But after events go terribly wrong at the palace, the queen’s envoy, Sir Bernard Humphries (Max Baker), arrives, needing important information so England can go to war with the NaKong. Meanwhile, the rather proper, shy Lucius Fretway (a sweetly innocent Lorenzo Pisoni) takes a liking to Phyllida, the bombastic Harry Percy (a very funny David Furr) boasts of his discovery of the East Pole, Professor Sloane (John McMartin) quotes from the Bible and claims that the Irish are the lost Hebrews, and Professors Walling (Steven Boyer) and Cope (Brian Avers) battle over rats and snakes. The Explorers Club — not to be confused with the actual Explorers Club on the Upper East Side — becomes tiresome and repetitive very quickly, as director Marc Bruni (Old Jews Telling Jokes) and Benjamin (Legally Blonde) continually tread the same territory, whether it be jokes about snakes and charades or mentions of the club’s chief competitor, the National Geographic Society. However, one repeated joke is nearly worth the price of admission itself; posing as a bartender, Luigi mixes drinks and serves them by sliding them across and off the bar, where they’re acrobatically caught by the cast in delightful displays of dexterity. Otherwise, The Explorers Club is a disappointing journey that fails to explore any new territory.

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