BWW Review: Servant Stage Goes AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
If Jules Verne crashed headlong into THE 39 STEPS, he would have found he'd created Mark Brown's 2008 play AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, in which the story of Phileas Fogg and his intrepid manservant Passepartout is told by five characters playing over 30 roles. It's therefore slightly slower than THE 39 STEPS, in which four performers play over 100 roles, but that just gives you enough time to breathe to absorb the jokes.
At Servant Stage Company, borrowing its theatre from Lancaster Alliance Church, director Chris Wert puts those five characters through their paces; the show runs long enough that there's more than one minute per day, but many of those minutes are spent on breathtaking adventures that children in the audience will enjoy as much, if not more, than the adults. The show is family-friendly, as all Servant Stage productions are, without talking down to anyone in any way. This show, which played at the Irish Rep in Manhattan, co-produced by the Cincinnati Playhouse, may be the repository of every corny one-liner ever used in English, but all ages will be laughing anyway.
Dan Deal stars as Phileas Fogg (the only character he portrays), the most rigidly scheduled of men, who nonetheless is persuaded to place a spontaneous bet at his club that he can take a journey around the world in 80 days in 1872, when travel was still reliant upon ships and trains. Deal is a delight as Fogg, straitlaced to the point of hilarity, and seemingly obtuse to frivolity or romance. Jacob Daniel Cummings takes on a few roles, notably that of Passepartout, who is torn between a joy of peace, quiet, and regular schedules and the joy of adventure in India and Asian ports. (Except, of course, when the adventures become scary.) There's genuine chemistry with Deal and Cunningham, and it's fun to watch their Fogg and Passepartout attempt to work together without killing each other.
Kristen Brewer plays a few female roles, notably that of the Indian widow, Aouda, rescued from certain death by the two men and slowly developing an interest in Fogg to which he appears blissfully obtuse.
It's Brian McCreary who provides the real plot device; among his characters is that of the intrepid and allegedly not bumbling Detective Fix, who can never keep Fogg in place at any time for long enough to get an arrest warrant. And why should our globe-trotting hero be arrested? Because any man with a bag full of cash who makes a mad dash as far away from London as possible is clearly the man who robbed the Bank of England. McCreary's most frequent interactions are with Cunningham, providing Cunningham the opportunity to show some creative physical humor and McCreary to bluster humorously in front of the audience. Their series of running jokes becomes a bit thin by the end of the show, much in the way of a Monty Python joke that's worn out by the end of the episode, but it's Brown's script, not the performers, that overworks the name jokes. The two are simply great fun to watch. Andrew Zahn plays the remaining characters including a priest, a judge, a man at a club, and every character from whom Fix wants to order a search warrant, in every country Fix is in.
Did we say that the fix was in? Or that the detective is in a fix? Now he's doing it to us.
Although Servant Stage is faith-based, their entertainment is enjoyable for anyone, completely non-sectarian. Though Brown's book for the show does contain some heavy-handed national and ethnic stereotypes for humor, it's also relatively inoffensive, just silly, again in a Monty Python-influenced way.
The set is beautiful and surprisingly detailed for a platform that must become a house, a club, police stations, consulates, and ships' decks. Kudos to John Whiting for set design, and to Dan Deal and Patricia Kaufhold for costume design. This starts the fall season as one of the best sets of the year.
Tickets, in keeping with Servant Stage's mission, are pay what you will/pay what you can. The show runs through September 17. Tickets are available through the website, servantstagecompany.com. The performances are at Lancaster Alliance Church, 210 Pitney Road, Lancaster (off of Greenfield Road).