22 September 2011

Timing is of the essence -- at Playhouse on Park

Life, like comedy, is all in the timing, and no one knows that like Phileas Fogg, the uber-reserved English gentlemen traveler who accepts a trans-global wager in Around the World in 80 Days (at Playhouse on Park through October 2) with the same nonchalance most of us decide which tie to wear.  Punctuality, he would say, is not about avoiding delays; it's the acceptance of -- and preparation for -- the delays that will inevitably happen.  (That lesson alone is something contemporary Americans can learn from the Victorian Mr. Fogg!)

The adaptation of the Jules Verne novel of the 1870s, adapted by Mark Brown, and brought to vivid life by an ensemble of five very talented actors under the direction of Russell Treyz (who directed the equally exquisite Trapezium last season at POP), squeezes every last ounce of invention from the novel with such theatrical efficiency that Fogg's creator must be looking down quite fondly on how his creations have made so successful a transition to the stage.  (If all you know of Around the World is the extravagant Michael Todd film with a cast of a 1000 cameos, then are you in for a pleasant surprise.  And, if all you know of the novel is, well, the novel, you will not be disappointed.)

As brought to life by Russell Garrett (Fogg), Aiden O'Shea (Passepartout), Chris Mixon (Fix, et al.), Jef Canter (LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of characters), and Veronique Hurley (Aouda, et al.), the story lacks none of the thrills, laughs, and heart that Verne envisioned.  And the director shows us how immense an intimate theatre can be when the stage is peopled by talented performers.  (If Trapezium unfolded within a closed geometry, World accepts no boundaries.)  

The remarkable virtuosity of Canter pleases at every turn, as do the many incarnations of Mixon and Hurley.  No one works harder than O'Shea's back-flipping valet Passepartout, a performance of such physicality (not to mention tenderness) that I'm not sure I'll ever want to see the role played by anyone else.     Garrett's Fogg is the anchor by which all the craziness is held in check.  A character that, in lesser hands, could be but a stick in the mud, he wins the audience by degrees as he learns to love Aouda and Passepartout.

Bob Phillips' set, dominated by a large late 19th-Century world map, helps to keep the audience's head in the journey, all the while giving the actors appropriate spaces for all the stops along the way.  The costumes (Jennifer Raskopf), lights (Will Lowry) and technical direction (Steve Mountzoures) continue the excellence I've come to expect from POP.

There's no reason you can't find the time to go see Around the World in 80 Days at Playhouse on Park.  The trip, you will find, is its own, very entertaining, reward.  

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