BWW Review: AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS Will Make Your Head Spin at the Omaha Community Playhouse
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS might make your head spin like a globe. Opening at the Omaha Community Playhouse with five versatile actors directed by Carl Beck, this play adapted by Mark Brown from the Jules Verne's classic novel, takes us on a whirlwind adventure.
Phineas Fogg, a staid English gentleman obsessed with mathematics, time and accuracy, is prodded by his Reform Club cohorts (he has no friends) to make it all the way around the world within 80 days. If he is successful, he will win 20,000 British pounds. If he is late, he will lose that sum. Grabbing his newly hired French servant, Jean Passepartout, and little else, they leave on the first available train.
Throughout their journeys to Bombay, Calcutta, Singapore, Yokohama, San Francisco and more, Fogg and Passeportout run into stranglers, cowboys, and even religious men who steal Passeportout's shoes for desecrating a pagoda. A detective follows them, not too surreptitiously, attempting to trap Fogg for suspicion of bank robbery. A beautiful damsel in distress, Aouda, joins them when she is rescued from being burned on a funeral pyre.
Fogg and Passeportout are constantly checking their watches. Passeportout's watch, given to him by his grandfather, has never been off more than 5 minutes a year. Consistency is critical. Improvisation is necessary. Cancellations of ships, missing movements, incomplete train tracks all throw wrenches into their carefully planned itinerary making bribing, cajoling, and rethinking their journey mandatory. Are they going to make it on time?
Although I've never been a great fan of slapstick comedy, there is an amazing comedic aspect of the actors that cracked me up. In particular, Ben Beck's posture and facial expressions, along with his mannerisms, are flat out hilarious. He, Monty Eich and Teri Fender are all gifted performers who easily shift from one character to another. They change personality and accent just as readily as their costumes. Susan Baer Collins had her work cut out for her as dialect coach. Her efforts paid off.
Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek as Phineas Fogg, and Ablan Roblin as Passeportout, show an impressive ability to develop deepening degrees of personality. They evolve from being caricatures to more complex persons. Kaczmarek remains mostly unflappable. Roblin demonstrates an impulsive personality. They both show increasing compassion and self-sacrifice. They prove loyal. They forge friendship. They find feelings.
Bryan McAdams' set is minimal, but effective for the rapidly transitioning scenes. The train with moving sky backdrop is nice, but from the side where I was sitting, the far window showed black because the backdrop is not wide enough to allow for the angle. The elephant is a work of near brilliance.
Costuming is a feat in this production. There are 34 costumes for the five actors, which must be changed in fractional minutes. Aouda's dresses are rich with detail and gorgeous fabric. It's always a treat to feast my eyes on Georgiann Regan's costuming.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS will be around the OCP until February 12. Set your grandfather's watch for the 7:30 shows on Wednesday through Saturday or the 2:00 show on Sunday afternoon. Catch the next showing or you'll miss out on the funniest journey in town.
Photographs by Colin Conces