by Maggie Kulbokas
Around the World in 80 Days is an historic adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel. Playwright Mark Brown approached the daunting task of trimming the tale of a journey around the globe in 80 day's time while trying to infuse his decidedly modern humor.
According to Brown, his first attempt left him with four hours of material, which according to the writer, "almost forced me to put in a dinner break." Brown dove back in and resurfaced with 2 hours of adventure, suspense and wit.
One may ask, "how the heck can the Cape Playhouse stage such a production on that stage?" Amazingly well would be the answer. And with only six actors (some in multiple roles) and minimal props this show chugged along like an ocean steamer.
The story unfolds at the Reform Club in London. Ultra-uptight and all business, Phileas Fogg played by Matthew Arkin, engages in a debate with fellow club members about the likelihood of circumventing the globe in 80 days. Phileas, as stoic, scientific and determined as ever, wagers that he can make it around the world and back to England via most of the continents in 80 days. With a bet of $20,000 pounds, he sets out on the first leg of his journey.
Phileas returns to his home where he announces his travel plans to his manservant Passepartout, a prissy Frenchman, impressively played by Brad DePlanche. Passepartout is a bit taken aback by this rash decision, but he is rather new to the household as Phileas dismissed his previous manservant for serving tea 2 degrees too cold--just a little insight into Phileas' true nature.
As a second layer to this already fanciful tale, Detective Fix, played by Eric Hissom, is "hot" on the trail of a suspect wanted for robbing the local bank--just around the time Phileas made his wager. A suspect who, in the detective's opinion, bears a striking resemblance to Phileas. Phileas and Passepartout embark on their journey with Fix hot on the trail.
Purists may turn their noses up at this comic adaptation, but if you are the kind of person who appreciates a classic told with a slapstick spin, you'll love "80 Days." Brown sprinkles his comic homage to Verne with modern day wordplay and visual humor. It's modern satire, Victorian virtue and Abbott Costello all rolled into one.
The set of "80 Days" is sturdy and sparse, decorated with cogs and clocks--an ever-present reminder of Phileas' deadline. They also add a subtle feeling that the stage is constantly in motion. "80 Days" is by far one of the most interactive plays of this season. The characters, especially Passepartout, interacted with several members of the front row eliciting an exuberant response from the audience.
As the set was simple and the props almost non-existent it was up to the talented actors to use their bodies and voices to bring the stage to life. Bodies bobbing in unison cleverly created the illusion of being aboard a chugging locomotive.
Matthew Arkin as Phileas Fogg was stalwart and gentlemanly--a true example of Victorian grace. Brad DePlanche as Passepartout was lispy and loyal--the comedic glue that holds this fast moving ensemble together. Eric Hissom as Detective Fix (also portrayed several other characters) played the perfect straight man for Passepartout's quips. Some of the best scenes involve the two sparring over Phileas' innocence. Aysan Celik as Aouda played the docile and endearing Indian woman saved by Phileas and Passepartout in the Indian outback during their journey.
Arnie Burton was hysterical as several as the characters the pair encounter on their journey. Bradley Dean Whyte as the Foley Artist--helped keep us up to speed on Phileas' progress from the side stage. He also added many of the sound effects from the back of the stage. Both actors added a splash of color to the production, as did the perfectly replicated period piece costumes.
Is Phileas the bank robber? What becomes of Aouda the woman he saved? Will he win the wager? Well, you've read the book; now see the play.
"80 Days" was captivating fun for a thoroughly pleased audience. Book passage at the box office and make the journey now.