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Paulanne Simmons

"Around the World in 80 Days" in Two Delightful Hours

"Around the World in 80 Days"
Directed by Michael Evan Haney
The Irish Repertory Theatre
In Association with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
132 West 22nd St. between 6th and 7th Avenues
From July 11, 2008
Tues. thru Sat. 8pm, Sat. & Sun. matinees 3pm
$55-$60, (212) 727-2737 or www.irishrep.org
Closes Sept. 7, 2008
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 26, 2008

"Around the World in Eighty Days," Jules Verne's 1873 adventure classic, is best known to many Americans as Mike Todd's epic film starring David Niven as the peripatetic Phileas Fogg. Curiously, this was Todd's first film, his producing efforts before that being confined to stage plays.

Todd died in a plane crash in 1958. So we will never know what he (or Verne, for that matter) might have thought of Mark Brown's adaptation, in which 39 characters are portrayed by five actors in a script that is as fast-paced as one imagines the fictitious journey must have been. But whether or not you've seen the movie or read the book, this is a show you shouldn't miss.

Michael Evan Haney directs the five actors, brilliantly coordinating the many scenes and sets, with the attendant lighting, sound effects and props. The result is a dazzling tour-de-force of acting and production.

Daniel Stewart, the only actor with a solo part, is Phileas Fogg, the eccentric Englishman who believes "the unforeseen does not exist." With a self-confidence that makes him a forerunner of Indiana Jones, Fogg agrees to wager several members of his club 20,000 pounds that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. He literally weathers all the storms and succumbs to only one surprise – love, in the beautiful personification of the Indian princess Aouda (Lauren Elise McCord, who also plays James Forster, a priest, and a newspaperman).

Jay Russell and John Keating play most of the other characters, which include Keating's outstanding Detective Fix, the amiable villain in this piece.

But of course, it is the flamboyant and loyal Passepartout, the clever Frenchman, who is the most infectiously funny and, at the same time, wise character in this production, something one suspect the Frenchman Verne would relish. And the wily Evan Zes, who plays the part in this production, can certainly give Cantinflas, who took the role in Todd's film, a run for his money.

For certainly, this production does run. Its fast pace, sight and sound gags, impressive physicality and debt to the common pun make it a close cousin of the not-quite-dead burlesque show. One can imagine the likes of Groucho Marx chuckling up in heaven – or wherever else the renegade may be.

Staging a worldwide journey, complete with storms, Indian raids and trains hurdling across water without benefit of tracks on the Irish Rep's small stage is no easy feat. But with the aid of sound and light effects, the cast, swaying and bouncing, takes the audience aboard trains and boats, and, in one delightful scene, on an elephant ride, while Passepartout serves tea.

"Around the World in Eight Days" is somewhat different than Verne's other books; Verne is clearly having lots of fun pointing out the difference between the English rectitude pf Fogg, who is "exactitude personified" and the Gallic common sense of Passepartout. In this novel, Verne is less interested in science than in pure fiction and the fun that comes with it.

The Irish Rep's "Around the World in 80 Days" is wonderfully in step with Verne's most fanciful work.

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