Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Wild and Madcap Production of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days

Also see Richard's reviews of Master Builder and In On It

Mark Farrell, Mark Anderson Phillips, Jeffrey Draper
The Center REPertory Company is currently presenting the Bay Area premier of Mark Brown's spin on Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days at the Dean Lesher Performing Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.  What could be called "Monty Python meets Jules Verne," this production is the daffiest comedy you will ever see. 

All of this is accomplished by five high-spirited, fast-moving and flat out hilarious actors on a revolving stage against a golden rib cage background that somehow looks like a comic book spaceship. The cast uses the barest of props for their journey around the world.

One can hardly think that this huge novel, which was made into two epic movies, could be put onto a stage. Orson Wells tried it in 1946 and received disastrous reviews from the critics in New York. He said he was putting a voodoo curse on the critics for their disparaging remarks. (In fact, several nights after the critics blasted his efforts, Wells came out on stage at the end and told the audience, "The critics have said I have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this production." He went off stage and came back with a kitchen sink and threw it on the stage floor. "There is the kitchen sink," he said and he stormed off stage).

Around the World was presented recently at the B Street Theatre in Sacramento by the Foothill Theatre Company where it received rave reviews. The five actors portray over forty characters during the two-act harebrained farce, which is played perfectly at lightning speed.

Phileas Fogg (Mark Anderson Phillips), a very strict and emotionless man, gets wound up in a bet at his gentlemen's club.  He has to prove that it is possible to travel around the whole world in only 80 days.  He and his new butler, Passepartout (Gendell Hernandez), take off immediately, encountering adventures in various countries along the way.  A London detective, who goes by the name of Detective Fix, thinks that Phileas has stolen a large sum of money from the Bank of England, and he sets out in pursuit of the man.  Their paths cross during many of the adventures. Along the way, Passepartout rescues beautiful Princess Aouda (Rachel Rehmet) from being burnt alive at the side of her dead husband and she becomes their companion.

Mark Anderson Phillips (formerly Mark Phillips, last seen in Family Butchers and Dolly West's Kitchen) stays completely in character as the stiff-upper-lip Englishman. His diction is flawless, and he does a first rate portrayal of the exacting gentlemen.   Gendell Hernandez (Sons of Don Juan, Oil, Pastures of Heaven) is the perfect Passepartout with a good French accent. He gives a great athletic performance as he jumps and moves about the stage at rapid speed.  Rachel Rehmet (Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding, Don't Dress for Dinner) plays four roles and is especially demure as Princess Aouda.

Mark Farrell (Splittin the Raft, Judgment at Nuremberg) is amazing playing seventeen characters, from a somewhat fey upper class Englishman, to a nearsighted British counsel with a brilliant stutter, to a Chinese broker, to a ship's captain who looks like the Gorton frozen fish ad fisherman, to an American Army officer with a drawl, to an American frontier speed demon.  This is a tour de force acting portrayal using various dialects to make his roles some of the most hilarious characterizations that you will ever see on stage.   Jeffrey Draper ( Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Fugitive Kind) plays eight roles; however, his role as Detective Fix is great as he plays it like an old fashioned melodrama with asides to the audience.

Todd Roehrman's costumes are cartoon-like as if they might be in a "B" production of a spaceship movie.  Even the set by Kelly Tighe looks like something out of a comic book. Director Michael Butler keeps the action at marathon speed on a revolving stage, and the changes of costumes are absolutely amazing. 

Around the World in 80 Days runs through March 4th at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Street, Walnut Creek.  For tickets call 925-943-7469. Their next production is Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, opening on March 23rd and running through April 22nd.

Photo: Anne Luke

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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