Jennifer Westfeldt Charms; Savion Glover Taps: Theater
Goofiness has its charms, especially when delivered by a comedienne as deft as Jennifer Westfeldt, best known as the star of her indie film, “Kissing Jessica Stein.”
In “The Explorers Club,” from the Manhattan Theatre Club, she plays anthropologist Phyllida Spotte-Hume, who has returned triumphant to London after discovering a hitherto unknown tribe.
A feral blue native of the tribe, whose multisyllabic name she has reduced to Luigi, accompanies her as living proof.
One would expect such a momentous discovery to smooth her way into the inner sanctum to which the title of Nell Benjamin’s comedy refers (lavishly designed by Donyale Werle with the requisite dead animals, leather loungers and sinister flora).
But it’s 1879 London, the members are male and not a little befuddled. Even the sponsorship of a botanist so smitten with Phyllida that he’s named an apparently lethal orchid for her, holds little sway.
Gamely un-p.c. and breathlessly silly, the play and Marc Bruni’s staging give plenty of slapstick time to good character actors including Carson Elrod as wide-eyed Luigi, John McMartin as a Bible-wielding nut job and David Furr as the top dog, who claims to have discovered the East Pole.
The only character given short shrift in this modestly amusing piffle is the winsome star. Poor Phyllida keeps being dispatched -- to an anteroom so the men can smoke cigars and drink brandy, or back to “Pahatlabong” to save the natives. More, please, of Jennifer, if not Phyllida.
Through July 21 at City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th St. Information: +1-212-581-1212; http://www.mtc-nyc.org. Rating: **1/2
“STePz” is the name of Savion Glover’s latest tap-dancing master class at the Joyce, an annual summer harbinger whose latest installment is a do-not-miss.
The 12 dances in the program range from works for an ensemble in which Glover is joined by four other dancers.
Glover’s inspirations range from bebop gods Charlie Parker and Miles Davis to Dmitri Shostakovich and the theme from “Mission Impossible.” Always tipping toe-and-heel to his mentors, especially Gregory Hines, Glover imbues his shows with traditions even as he shatters them. Watch and listen as a torrent of sound emanates from feet that barely seem to leave the stage. He is astounding.
The high point is the title number, set to Sammy Davis Jr.’s version of “Mr. Bojangles.” Not the soft-shoe the song invokes, but a tap homage to an underappreciated forebear who broke rules when doing so really meant something. It’s beautiful and chilling.
Through July 6 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave. Information: +1-212-242-0800; http://www.joyce.org. Rating: ****
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(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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