note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
Phileas Fogg … Steven Barkhimer
Passepartout … Christopher Brophy
Detective Fix … Victor Warren
Aouda … Eve Kagan
Actor 1 … Robert Saoud
The thrill of Jules Verne’s AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS lies in Mr. Verne pleading so convincing a case that such a feat could indeed be done in the 1870s; to quote Mr. Verne, “I have always made a point in my romances of basing my so-called inventions upon a groundwork of actual fact, and of using in their construction methods and materials which are not entirely without the pale of contemporary engineering skill and knowledge.” By being so practical an author, Mr. Verne could not but help inspire future scientists to pick up in life where he left off on the page; indeed, upon reading Mr. Verne’s novel, so marvelously researched in its geographical detail, one is tempted to test the fictional path traveled by Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, so long ago. (Such a trip would take far less time, of course, unless you go the old-fashioned way by train and steamer.) In the end, Mr. Verne’s greatest gift was not to Science but to his readers, bringing back the wonder of childhood into their lives, and dreamers are the ones who set things in motion…
A stage adaptation by Mark Brown is currently playing at the Stoneham Theatre, and both adaptation and production are clever fun. Mr. Brown is faithful to the breathless plot --- thus, there is no travel-balloon which became the icon of the 1956 film version (no doubt, that device was borrowed from Mr. Verne’s FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON) --- and he condenses several days of reading to two hours of stage traffic with a quintet ensemble, four of its actors in multiple roles. Thus, the suspense is doubled: can Phileas Fogg win his bet and can Mr. Brown pull off his own challenge? The answer to both is “yes”, with a few revisions: Passepartout’s release after being kidnapped by American Indians is politically softened and Aouda, the wilting East Indian heroine, becomes as spunky as the men (it is she who now proposes marriage, not Mr. Fogg), but overall Mr. Brown adapts in a snappy commedia style --- take the Elephant, for starters --- and he alternates Reader’s Theatre with enough dialogue to tip his version into the Drama category (Comedy, really).
Since the Messrs. Verne and Brown are the stars, here, a director has no choice but to carry out their orders but Weylin Symes proves himself an adept juggler of bodies and once his five actors are tossed into the air, then do not touch ground until curtain call. They, too, are marvelous: Steven Barkheimer, whose comic technique is one of owl-like solemnity, is an ideal Phileas Fogg, the stiff upper lip in the whirlwind of events; twice I have seen Christopher Brophy play all-too-convincing rednecks and was delighted with his fluffy but dapper Passepartout --- who would have guessed a boulevardier lurked within him? Eve Kagan, new to me, is pretty and seems as spunky as Mr. Brown’s Aouda; Victor Warren works the audience with obvious relish as Detective Fix, among others, and Robert Saoud is protean-rich impersonating everyone else. Rachel Padula Shufelt’s quick-change costumes, wigs and facial hair deftly label each fleeting impersonation and while Cristina Todesco’s world map and screen destinations are arresting visuals, her raised circular stage threatens to retard the actors’ flow as they must sprint up, down and around the stairs --- fortunately, Mr. Barkheimer & Company are well up to the challenge. Nor must I forget Nathan Leigh’s evocative sound design --- it really does take all kinds to make a world.