Around the World in 80 Days
Irish Repertory Theatre, New York
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The Irish Repertory’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel is near-perfect summer entertainment, said Rachel Saltz in The New York Times. The show “revels in simple theatrical artifice,” employing just five actors, two sound artists, and a few basic props to depict some 30 characters, a host of conveyances, and 24,000 miles of exotic locales. Director Michael Evan Haney’s production gets by on old-fashioned ingenuity: A few artfully arranged tables and a chest stand in for the elephant who helps Verne’s carpet-bag-toting world traveler, Phileas Fogg, bridge a railway gap between Bombay and Calcutta. To stage a train trip, actors sway in chairs while a washboard is raked with a scrub brush. Playwright Mark Brown’s lark of a show is pure fun.
Audiences will likely “laugh themselves apoplectic” while on this “amiable jaunt,” said Alexis Soloski in The Village Voice. The antics of stiff-upper-lipped Brit Fogg and his bumbling French manservant Passepartout are “just as outlandish and rollicking” as in the 1873 original. But slapsticky humor and corny jokes too often threaten to derail this voyage. “Nor has the play dispensed with some of literature’s more impertinent national stereotypes”: Top-hatted Englishmen and gunslinging American cowboys are not the only caricatures here. There’s also too much mugging by the actors, who for the most part sport “dreadful facial hair and worse intonations.” Yet Haney’s bare-bones production is “much too genial” for its shortcomings to matter much.
The first two acts of Around the World work “in fits and starts,” said Mark Blankenship in Variety. By the final third, however, it “moves at the right, breezy speed,” thanks to a cast whose comic instincts are briskly in sync. As Fogg, Daniel Stewart finally settles into the role, taking a more reserved approach to the humor rather than “shoving it in our faces.” The show’s cleverest performances may come from Elizabeth Helitzer and Mark Parenti, who have no speaking roles but masterfully handle the visual and sound effects.
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