Mark Brown's adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is all about transportation, and not just the physical kind. Exaggerated accents, comic physical action and a briskly narrated pace (with two Foley artists for emphasis) transform Jules Verne's novel into an adventurous bit of theater. In the same vein as The 39 Steps, Brown's script calls for a small ensemble (five actors), with Daniel Stewart as the straight man, Phileas Fogg, and Evan Zes as his indomitable sidekick, the flexibly French Passepartout. They are joined by Lauren Elise McCord as Aouda, who comes across as the loveliest of plot contrivances, while the very talented Jay Russell and John Keating spin around them, filling out the other twenty odd characters.
Verne's novel is practically engineered for such an adaptation: it's an endurance race, as are most farces, and Michael Evan Haney directs it as such. There simply isn't the time for a dull moment: even the exposition is punctuated by pantomime that call to mind the swaying of boats, the juddering of trains, and the galumphing of elephants. If there were even the hint of blandness, Brown has excised it from his script, with the actors either hastily "narrating" into the next bit of fun or introducing a new character just long enough for a laugh. The combustion, the steam-ups, the hot air: all of these things are consistent with the forward motion of the plot, and hence the play, and even the intermission--which hits mid-typhoon--propels the show forward.
Best of all, Around the World in 80 Days is appealing to all ages. Kids will laugh at the bumbling Detective Fix (Keating) and his attempts to hinder Fogg (who he believes is an infamous bank robber), while adults will find his mock-Sherlock affectations most enjoyable. As for poor Passepartout (Zes's portrayal is anything but poor), he resembles Clouseau, from his insistence that his watch is a "perfect time piss" to his close encounters with opium. This recognizability is intentional, especially for the rotating caricatures, and David K. Mickelsen's costuming deserves as much credit as Russell's affectations for filling each role out.
If gas prices are keeping you from traveling much this summer, why not take a trip Around the World? This slapstick adventure is far roomier than coach, not bogged down by any weather delays, and, thanks to the expert acting, there's no chance of you missing anything along the way. As Fogg would say, it's all accounted for: entertainment most certainly included.
Monday, July 28, 2008