Going around the world in fewer than 80 days is no trick today, but in 1872–before the invention of the airplane–it took a bit of ingenuity and a great deal of luck. That’s the central plot challenge in the play Around the World in 80 Days, now on stage at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s.
Based on the 19th century Jules Verne novel of the same name, Around the World in 80 Days follows the journey of English gentleman Phileas Fogg in his very own amazing race. A wealthy man of precise habits (he fires a servant for preparing shaving water that’s two degrees too cool), Fogg has absolute confidence in his every move–so much confidence that he impulsively bets the bulk of his fortune that he can circumvent the globe and return to his London club in no more than 80 days to the minute.
Assisted by his resourceful manservant Passepartout, Fogg manages to overcome seemingly endless obstacles from a typhoon to a broken railway bridge to a Wild West Indian attack. Aouda, a young woman rescued in India from a near death situation, joins the pair and proves herself their equal in courage and cunning. All the while the adventurers are being pursued by a detective who suspects Fogg of having robbed a bank.
Mark Brown’s adaptation captures both the comedy of the haywire romp from country to country and the romantic tale of self discovery from the Verne novel. As director Clint Thorton states in his online notes on the play, “Fogg’s journey reveals the true purpose of his spirit and invites a lifting of the conditions suggested by his surname. When we can escape the limits of schedules, rules, regimens and obligations, we find in ourselves the more open spaces of life.”
Those who saw the old David Niven movie Around the World in 80 Days, might have been waiting to see the travelers board a hot air balloon. That was a detail added for the movie. It wasn’t in the Verne novel, and it’s not in this adaptation. Nonetheless there’s not a dull moment as the principal characters hopscotch the world using whatever means of travel is at hand.
The main set design feature is audience members’ imaginations as simple props are used to suggest trains, ships–even an elephant. While props designer Maclare Park’s clever staging makes this production a great deal of fun to watch, it’s the talented cast quickly and seamlessly changing make-up, costumes and accents–making a cast of five main character appear to be a cast of dozens–that keeps the audience gasping and breaking into spontaneous applause.
The casting is pitch perfect. Tom Key is wonderful as the imperturbable Fogg as Paul Hester is as Passepartout. William S. Murphy and father/daughter pair James Donadio and Kate Donadio all handle a variety of roles with the skill of circus jugglers. Together, they make the more than 135-year-old story delightfully fresh and funny.
Theatrical Outfit’s production of Around the World in 80 Days is at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s through Nov. 8. The theater is located at 84 Luckie Street, NW, Atlanta.