Theater archives

Light Packing for Around the World in 80 Days


Environmentalists, fret not: Yes, Phileas Fogg does again make a voyage Around the World in 80 Days, but as he carries only a carpetbag and relies upon energy-efficient methods of transportation such as elephant, train, steamer, and sledge, Mr. Fogg leaves the lightest of carbon footprints. And as the Irish Repertory Theatre uses only five actors (in 39 roles) and a single set (to represent 24,000 miles), it can likely offset the journey by gesturing pleasantly toward a tree or sending a puff of breath in the direction of a turbine.

Yes, the Irish Rep thus offers an ecologically sound production, but it has not otherwise troubled to bring Jules Verne’s 1873 novel in line with contemporary sensibilities. Mark Brown’s adaptation of the adventure story—about an Englishman who makes a bet that he can circumnavigate the globe in under three months—appears just as outlandish and rollicking as it ever did. Nor has the play dispensed with some of literature’s more impertinent national stereotypes: Stiff-upper-lip Brits mingle with gun-toting wild Westerners. The actors utilize dreadful facial hair and worse intonations. Evan Zes, as Passepartout, uses a French accent so awful it would make an actual Gaul weep into his burgundy.

But, really, the production’s much too genial (and it’s much too hot out) to fuss about any of that. As Verne wrote in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, “Liberty is worth paying for”; pleasant summer theater, like Around the World, is also worth paying for. True, Brown’s script could be slicker and Michael Evan Haney’s direction much more precise (he should take some tips from Maria Aitken, who helms The 39 Steps), but though they’re encouraged to mug deplorably, the cast acquit themselves nicely, especially Jay Russell and John Keating in a variety of minor roles. The audience, very ready for amusement, laughed themselves apoplectic every time one or the other appeared onstage with a bushy wig and mangled dialect. With its charming cast, impractical plot, and air-conditioned environs, Around the World makes for quite an amiable jaunt.

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