By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
What a trip! Stage West's production of Around the World in 80 Days is featherweight comedy that floats along nicely, thanks to the steady breeze stirred by the constant motion of its five hard-charging actors.
Director Jerry Russell keeps the pace frantic throughout this immensely amusing farce, lest we notice that playwright Mark Brown's script, based on Jules Verne's novel, keeps running out of gas. It's the smart cast that gets this show in gear, with three of them — Dwight Greene, Cliff Stephens and Carissa Jade Olsen — doing so many quick changes of costumes and accents, it's easy to lose track of whom they were playing in the previous scene. (Greene portrays 16 characters, each with a distinctly unique physical posture and vocal quality. Amazing.)
With only four chairs, simple props and lots of imaginative improvisation (watch the windsock become an elephant's trunk!), English adventurer Phileas Fogg (Paul Taylor, elegant in costumer Michael Robinson's period wardrobe) embarks on his round-the-globe race. If Fogg and witty French valet Passepartout (Jakie Cabe, funny as merde borrowing Inspector Clouseau's vowels) can make it from London-to-London in 80 days, they'll win a pile of dough.
Off they hop onto trains, steamships and other exotic conveyances. They pick up a stalker, Detective Fix (Stephens), who suspects Fogg might be a notorious London bank robber. As they circumnavigate, Fogg et al encounter vagabonds, thieves, beggars, monks and one lovely Indian princess named Aouda (Olsen), whom they rescue from virgin sacrifice. It's Indiana Jones meets The Perils of Pauline on The Amazing Race.
The fun is watching Stage West's actors miming the bumpy rides and wheezing stops aboard various locomotives, and how they weather the typhoon that almost wrecks the boat they're "sailing" to San Francisco. Greene and Stephens play all of the supporting characters — conductor, engineer, cowboys, Indians, cavalry — in one wacky action sequence that presents obstacles that could scuttle Fogg's race against the calendar.
The acting's all first class, but some of the production values on 80 Days are strictly steerage. Jen Schultes' scenery looks like she handed fourth-graders pots of tempera paint and told them to draw maps. Not pretty. Several wigs could double as roadkill. Sound design by Dana Schultes, however, is spot-on, with well-timed boat whistles and squealing train wheels making up for spotty visuals.
Will they make it to London by deadline? Will Phileas Fogg ever smile? (Taylor is wickedly deadpan until he doesn't need to be.) Will you have a good time on this ride? Bet on it.
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