AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS: Clever Adaptation at DTC

by Jessica Graae

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS is the Delaware Theatre Company newest production.  Mark Brown’s clever adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel is witty, probing and entertaining. 

Greg Wood (center), as Phileas Fogg, sails through a typhoon with his fellow travelers (from left: Dan Hodge, Benjamin Lloyd and Farah Bala) on their way to America in Delaware Theatre Company’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, playing in Wilmington DE through December 19. (Photo credit: Matt Urban)

Phileas Fogg, (Greg Wood) wagers he can travel around the world in 80 days.  For his bold journey, which involves ships, trains and even a sled, he employs Passepartout (James IJames) as his personal servant. In 80 days, they make their way through the Suez Canal, Bombay, Hong Kong, San Francisco and many other places before they return to London. 

The production, directed by Aaron Posner, moves as quickly and colorfully as Fogg’s race around the globe.  Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set is simple, yet cleverly crafted: the circular platform unifying the swirling action on stage echoes the play’s themes of rapid world travel and self-exploration.  Stacks of trunks along the periphery not only function as set pieces, but also as living, breathing elements of the play.  With a few small pillows tossed on top, the trunks instantly become the underside of a train or a large, unruly elephant. 

The simplicity of the play helps stir our imagination. There are no set changes and only five actors and four of them play several parts.  The show’s charm and intrigue are created by the actors, who establish the scenes with changes in costumes and accents.  Dan Hodge’s unbelievable talent for physical comedy is reminiscent of Peter Sellers’ antics: he is a detective who trips over his own feet, and blunders as he begins to introduce himself as a detective.  Benjamin Lloyd plays 16 different characters, many of them side-splittingly funny.  As the incompetent Judge Obadiah, he is irritated by the defendant (Passepartout), who has unwittingly toured a temple in his shoes. The audience cheered and clapped when the entourage finally makes it to America, and Lloyd plays the loud, brash American, who mistakes Fogg for a Frenchman. (Fogg is from London, after all.  Isn’t London in France?)

As the “Newspaperman” Farah Bala gives quick updates about Fogg’s location and activities.  She also plays the lovely widow Aouda, becoming the apple of Fogg’s eye.  

The play is not only about winning a bet: it’s about finding oneself.  Fogg starts his journey friendless and wealthy. By the end of the play, he realizes what is important to him.  Fogg becomes kindhearted and understanding:  Even though Passepartout strays briefly into the world of alcohol and opium, Fogg forgives him, relieved the young man is out of harm’s way.  In saving Aouda’s life, Fogg learns love and devotion. His trip around the world is an odyssey of self-discovery as well as a geographical adventure.

Adapted by Mark Brown from the novel by Jules Verne
Directed by Aaron Posner
December 1 – 19, 2010
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE 19801

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