Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
Around the World in 80 Days
Seated orchestra right, I found it essential, during intermission, to stroll toward the very front of the stage as I hoped to discern just how the Helitzer/Parenti duo were able to contribute such wondrous sounds which highlight this audience-friendly production. The plot finds well-to-do Britisher Phileas Fogg (Mark Shanahan) bringing on a new manservant, Passepartout (Evan Zes), who is a nimble Frenchman. Fogg bets his cronies that he can make it around the circumference of the globe in 80 days. He does not realize that Detective Fix (Jeff Biehl) suspects that he, Fogg, is a bank robber and will pursue the man of wealthall over the place.
This rendering demonstrates that low tech enhances vivid imagination. The performance space is reduced and Joseph P. Tilford's set is rich with suggestion. It would have been impossible to replicate each and every move and turn of the Verne original fiction. The actors are catapulted from England to India to New York and back to London through: musical instruments (guitar, record ...), a metal sheet, vocals and so forth. Staying away from the synthesizer, in this case, is wise: the results are charming.
The show moves from very Victorian England to lands afar. The pliable Zes, as Passepartout, mugs shamelessly and cavorts about with flair. Fogg falls for shapely, enticing Indian princess Aouda (Lauren Elise McCord). Actors Biehl and Andrew Grusetskie collectively assume well more than twenty roles. Thus, we have costume changes (courtesy David Kay Mickelsen) galore, a multitude of accents, and indefatigable performances.
A whirlwind of activity is accomplished by manipulation of tables, chairs, a trunk, a box, sandbags ... A while ago, Long Wharf Theatre, too, did less with more when presenting Shipwrecked. Anyone who has ever produced a play with a minimum of funds available should be encouraged. Around the World in 80 Days is a fleet, amusing presentation. The effects are delightful.
Passepartout is the centerpiece comedian of the show. Aouda serves as the fetching love interest. The actors spin around Fogg while he doggedly moves on with his quest. Haney began work on Around the World in 80 Days at the Cincinnati Playhouse, and the current version feels fresh.
The novel was first transformed into a stage play that evidently enjoyed a half-century run in Paris. Since then, it's been adapted into film a few times.
A final thought: I wish I been able to sneak behind the stage. This would have afforded a covert opportunity to watch the versatile Foley Artists in action. It's quite a kick when actual people make music sound, and noise. This is jubilant.
Around the World in 80 Days continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through May 9th. For ticket information, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.
- Fred Sokol