BWW Review: AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS a Triumphant Adventure for the Rhode Island Stage Ensemble
Playwright Mark Brown crafted an undertaking worthy of Phileas Fogg with his ambitious adaptation of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. While Fogg wagers £20,000 that he can successfully span the globe in only 80 days - a mind-boggling feat for a Victorian-era traveler - Brown challenges five intrepid actors to inhabit nearly 40 distinct characters as they bring Verne's breathtaking adventure to life on stage.
Gauntlet down - but Woonsocket's Rhode Island Stage Ensemble (RISE) more than meets the challenge. RISE's production of Around the World in 80 Days, under the skillful direction of Gordon Dell, is polished to a gleaming shine, keeping the narrative's pace tight and fast and timing each quick-witted punchline to perfection.
RISE's gifted cast members deliver a truly impressive performance. Around the World brings out the best in this quintet, from Chris Pelletier's portrayal of the artless and devoted Passepartout to Ashley Moore's dignified turn as Auoda. Pelletier and Moore also ably take on the various personas of Reform Club members, newspaper men, and priests as Fogg's journey unfolds.
Kevin Broccoli proves an absolute master of accents and characterization, interpreting no fewer than 17 individual roles in Around the World (Mudge is especially memorable). Some transitions take barely the space of a heartbeat, and the chameleon-like change that comes over Broccoli is marvelous to watch. His alterations in voice, expression, and stance make each new persona immediately distinguishable from the last, and he handles Brown's smart, rapid-fire dialogue with practiced ease.
Candice Sampson takes on the second-largest number of characters, including an Indian guide, an American train conductor, and a British high-society gentleman. While Sampson sparkles in each of these smaller roles, she out-and-out steals the spotlight - along with the floorboards, the curtains, the entire lighting deck, and the heart of every audience member - with her show-stopping turn as the bumbling Scotland Yard inspector, Detective Fix. Fix compounds Fogg's around-the-world gamble by mistaking the globe-trotting gent for a notorious bank robber, hampering Fogg's progress on more than one occasion. Sampson's Fix is hyperbolic in the best possible way: animated, overwrought, and luminously funny. Even her most exaggerated facial expressions somehow convey subtlety and are side-splittingly hilarious. Sampson plays marvelously against the others, making Fix's agitated banter with Broccoli's narrator and each confrontational scene with Passepartout highlight moments in this production.
As for Fogg himself, Brad Kirton plays the "phlegmatic gentleman" with the ideal measure of levelheaded poise and intellectual detachment that so define the character. Not even the most hopeless setback shakes Fogg's assurance as he dashes from continent to continent, and this enables him to find creative solutions to each roadblock he encounters. Kirton balances Fogg's unflappable composure and imperturbable aplomb with occasional glimpses of the man underneath the mathematics, from his brief, lyrical aside about Auoda to his habit of snacking at any moment to his sudden emotional eruption at journey's end.
Props and sets (well-constructed by Rich Ferron and Jim Horn) are at a minimum in RISE's staging - a painted world map, two access doors, and an interactive arrivals/departures board grace the rear walls, with four standard chairs and one potted tree on the stage itself - but used skillfully and to great effect. The longsuffering tree, under Sampson's dexterous manipulation, becomes a sixth actor in its own right. And Roy Laurent's lighting and sound design keep Fogg's journey speeding deftly along with subtle touches indicating changes in location, time of day, and even the tone of a scene.
The Rhode Island Stage Ensemble presents Around the World in 80 Days at the RISE Playhouse through February 26, 2017. General admission tickets cost $16-20 and are available for purchase online at www.ristage.org. A talk-back session with the cast follows the February 19th performance. The RISE Playhouse is located at 142 Clinton Street, Woonsocket, RI 02985.
Photos by Veronica Bruscini