Aired on KSDS-FM on 1/26/18
RUN DATES: 1/10/18 – 2/4/18
VENUE: North Coast Repertory Theatre
These days, it’s possible to circle the planet in 67 hours. So going “Around the World in 80 Days,” as Jules Verne imagined in his 1872 novel, seems a bit quaint.
The book was a sly but affectionate satire of British manners, captured in the 1956 movie and various stage versions.
Though slapstick comedy never seems to go out of style, ethnic humor and racial or cultural stereotypes are a lot less amusing than they used to be.
North Coast Repertory Theatre is presenting the San Diego premiere of Mark Brown’s 2001 adaptation of the Verne novel, helmed by Allison Bibicoff, who has directed the piece twice before. The theater is billing this as a production “in the hilarious style of ‘The 39 Steps.’” If only.
What made that show so brilliantly comical was its simple theatricality – its paucity of props and costumes, just quick-change, ingenious hilarity.
Although the elephant ride is inventively conveyed, there could be a lot more of that magic-of-theater ingenuity, instead of every train and boat ride looking and feeling virtually the same. There weren’t that many means of transportation in the late 19th century, so a certain amount of repetition is inherent in the text – but there shouldn’t be so much in the staging, which is fussy without being funny.
At the center is the punctilious, supercilious Phileas Fogg, who embarks on the titular journey on a bet from his whist-playing, upper-crust cronies. Richard Baird is the unflappable fulcrum, while chaos swirls around him.
His servant, Passepartout, riotously embodied by Omri Schein, does all the resourceful, acrobatic problem-solving, but Fogg gets the girl, while asserting the imperialist view that money gets you absolutely anything. Not the greatest moral message for the day.
The marvelously versatile comic actors Will Vought, Loren Lester and Lovlee Carroll pretzel-twist themselves into some 40 characters. The set, costumes and moustaches are fun, and the suspense does build toward the end.
Overall, it’s a pretty lightweight romp, but a terrific actor showcase.
©2018 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews