BWW Review: Adventure Awaits in OSTC's Winning, Imaginative AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
When Phileas Fogg risks £20,000 on an improbable, seemingly impossible wager - to circumnavigate the entire globe in 80 days - he astonishes every member of his acquaintance. The task is a daunting one for even the most adventurous Englishman in the late nineteenth century, never mind a society gentleman whose daily routine falls into such exact mathematical precision that his servants and associates can set their watches by his unvarying movements. Yet Fogg's cool confidence convinces the members of the Reform Club of his earnestness, the fantastic bet is accepted, and the clock starts ticking down before the bags are packed.
The gamble faces further complications in the person of a dogged, if incompetent, Scotland Yard detective who pursues Fogg from port to port, convinced Fogg undertook his hasty journey to hide his guilt as a notorious bank robber. If he is to succeed in his quest - and prove his innocence - Fogg needs all of his creativity, foresight, and imagination. The Ocean State Theatre Company employs those very same qualities in bringing this madcap journey brilliantly to life on stage. Around the World in 80 Days is one of Jules Verne's best-loved works, and the story has enjoyed numerous retellings in theaters and on screens both small and silver since its publication in 1873. OSTC selected Mark Brown's streamlined and slapstick adaptation for its staging of Around the World, a choice which proves a perfect fit for this cast and company.
And praise for OSTC's production really must start with its outstanding cast. Five actors portray 37 distinct characters, often with only a hairsbreadth transition between roles. Jonathan Fisher proves his versatility and skill with the lion's share of these changes, including uptight member of the Reform Club, brash American cavalryman, by-the-book British judge, crusty ship's captain, and unbalanced-but-amiable frontiersman. David Groccia features first and foremost as the bumbling Detective Fix, but also takes on the roles of priest, Indian guide, and train conductor, among others. Groccia's sheer talent for silliness makes Fix almost dangerous in his ineptitude.
Minita Gandhi shines as Aouda, who eagerly joins Fogg's band of adventurers after they rescue her from certain death in India. Gandhi also gives standout performances as Fogg's former valet, the aged James Forster, and as an exposition-forwarding newspaper boy. Her recitation (as newsie) of Fogg's proposed itinerary is masterfully delivered. Matt Jones plays Fogg's newly hired valet, Passepartout, with buoyant vibrancy and lots of charm. Jones gift for physical comedy underscores Passepartout's unusual, briefly mentioned former employments - including time as a circus performer - as integral to the daring feats he achieves on the journey.
In the midst of the mayhem, the wonderful Russell Garrett presents Phileas Fogg as a calm and utterly composed center. Garrett's Fogg has such unwavering assurance that when obstacles appear on the journey, his decisiveness and self-possession inspire complete confidence not only in his fellow travelers but in OSTC's audience members as well. Fogg, at his introduction, sees everything in terms of mathematics and numbers-an aloof and solitary man; Garrett ever so gradually lowers pieces of Fogg's armor and subtly softens his sharper edges during each stage of the voyage. No one is more surprised than Fogg to find that he's opened heart to love and acquired an unconventional family at journey's end.
Mark Torres' fine direction keeps the many threads of Around the World's story on track, especially in terms of quick-change characters, a globe-spanning plot, and snappy, rapid-fire dialogue. Even the comedy serves the storytelling; repetitive jokes get funnier each time and have a satisfying payoff as the narrative plays out. Michael E. Martineau's resourceful staging utilizes minimal props and sets in inventive and unexpected ways to successfully suggest continual, sometimes frantic motion over land and sea (the characters' travel by elephant is a special highlight), as well as the rich culture of foreign lands. Dina Perez crafted gorgeous, eye-catching costumes, from the fine, rich cloth of Fogg's greatcoat to Aouda's glittering lehenga to Mudge's fur-covered trapper's garb. Smart lighting by Anthony Reed builds humor into the characters' many asides, as well as establishing atmosphere and environment at each port the travelers visit.
With remarkable performances on stage and a top-notch artistic team behind the scenes, Around the World in 80 Days is a standout production for Ocean State Theatre. The story's edge-of-your-seat race against the clock set alongside punchy, fast-paced humor makes for a truly entertaining and thoroughly absorbing theatrical experience.
Performances of Around the World in 80 Days run through November 22, 2015 at the Ocean State Theatre. A post-show discussion will follow the matinee performance on Sunday, November 8. Tickets range from $34-49 and can be purchased online at www.OceanStateTheatre.org, by phone (401) 921-6800, or at the OSTC box office, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI. Rush tickets are available. Call (401) 921-1777 x112 for information on group discounts.
---Photo by Mark Turek