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80 Days' in two hours

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80 Days' in two hours photo courtesy Penobscot Theatre Company
PTC presents adaptation of Jules Verne classic

BANGOR In William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' Puck tells his master Oberon that he will 'put a girdle round the Earth in forty minutes.' Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg means to take a little longer 80 days to be precise.

Penobscot Theatre Company is presenting their production of 'Around the World in 80 Days,' adapted by Mark Brown from Jules Verne's classic novel. The show will be running through June 2 at the Bangor Opera House.

The year is 1872. The world is going through a rapid period of change; isolation is becoming a thing of the past. Advances in technology particularly when it comes to transportation have turned the world into a much smaller place.

Phileas Fogg (Robin Bloodworth) is an English gentleman who is fascinated by this new global closeness. A recent newspaper article had made the claim that it was now possible for a man to circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days a claim Fogg believes. And so he makes a wager with his fellow members of the Reform Club. It's simple enough he will go around the world in 80 days. The stakes are 20,000 pounds.

Thus begins an epic whirlwind of a journey. Fogg and his faithful servant Passepartout (Dominick Varney) take to the road, hurrying their way across continents and oceans via steam engines and steamboats. Along the way, they encounter a number of characters with motives pure and sinister alike, whether it's the doomed Indian girl Aouda (Jenny Hart) or the robber-hunting Detective Fix (Brad LaBree) or any of the dozens of others (played mostly by LaBree and Arthur Morison) who cross Fogg's path along the way.

It's a race against time as Fogg makes his way around the world, attempting overcome every obstacle and find his way back to the Reform Club before his ruinous wager can destroy both his finances and his reputation.

The term 'madcap romp' suits this production nicely. A scant cast of five actors is charged with bringing this entire world to life; not an easy task. There are innumerable character shifts and quick changes the speed at which the show unfolds is engaging and impressive. 

Bloodworth the only actor not to tackle multiple roles is charismatic and charming as Phileas Fogg. He offers a performance that is surprising in its subtlety and nuance considering the over-the-top lunacy of the show. Varney's Passepartout has plenty of absurd moments, but is also grounded by a loyalty to his master that is actually quite sweet. Hart brings an understated charm to her portrayal of Aouda she also makes multiple entertainingly brash appearances as an expository newsman.

LaBree is goofily gruff and fun to watch - in his primary role as Detective Fix, but he also brings a variety of ideas to life by way of his eight other roles. And Morison does some serious heavy lifting here, playing 16 different roles in all. Yet even in some relatively short windows, he manages to bring a degree of variety and uniqueness to his portrayals.

Turning five people into a global population isn't easy, but director Kate Warner has done it and done it with style. The speed with which '80 Days' needs to unfold is considerable; without a real and reliable vision behind it, it could easily careen off the rails. Without that focus provided by Warner, the show might well have been a trainwreck. Instead, it fires on all cylinders, full steam ahead.

The design team for this show has done a bang-up job. From Erik Diaz's set to Wayne Merritt's lights to Rebecca Wright's costumes to Brandie Rita's sound design to Meredith Perry's outstanding prop design, all the elements meshed wonderfully. It all served as a dynamite foundation upon which the world of the play could be built, whether it was the gigantic map that illustrated Fogg's path or the constant parade of new and interesting outfits, every element worked. And man oh man - just wait until you see the elephant.

(Particular credit to Perry, who also serves as production stage manager. The degree of traffic direction needed for a show like this one to succeed is massive and often underappreciated; without a strong stage manager, this show simply wouldn't work.)

'Around the World in 80 Days' is a frantic, fast-paced comedy that offers fun for the whole family the perfect way to bring PTC's 39th mainstage season to a close. It is a journey worth taking.


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