Saturday, May 23, 2009

Around the World in Eighty Days - TAPROOT THEATRE COMPANY

Around the World in Eighty Days
Taproot Theatre Company
May 20 - June 20, 2009

Ryan Childers, Andrew Litzky, Alyson Scadron Branner, Bill Johns and Nolan Palmer. Photo by Erik Stuhaug

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne was the instant classic of 1873. It was so widely popular that it was almost immediately turned into a stage play for audiences of the era--and even today, the story is one of the most exciting adventures our culture has to offer. A man travels around the entire planet in eighty days on a wager as a matter of principle, honor and dignity. A man of his word, Phileas Fogg will not be detained - unless it is a matter of duty - and even then he'll make his train by gum!

The production that Taproot Theatre Company has brought to us this season uses a script by Mark Brown that premiered at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 2001, was work-shopped at the Orlando Shakespeare Festival in 2002 and premiered off-Broadway in July 2008. The script stays almost entirely true to the story, even adding periodic lines of dialogue directly from the narrative, adding a wonderfully book-it style feeling to the experience. The first act (about an hour) begins the journey and takes us from London to China with most of the adventures being somewhat average. The second act (less than an hour), however, becomes a fantastically ridiculous saga of wild-west shoot-outs, arrests, escapes and certain doom thwarted by perseverance and the international date line.

The story of Phileas Fogg (Ryan Childers) is surrounded with thirty-three additional characters played entirely by four other actors (Bill Johns, Nolan Palmer, Alyson Scadron Branner and Andrew Litzky). Wildly standing out is Andrew Litzky playing seventeen characters as well as the narrator of the story, each character being even more unique and outlandish than the last. However, his real precision is demonstrated in the individuality of similar characters like the several boat captains and train conductors he plays. Similarly hilarious is Ryan Childers' physical work. His ability to combine perfect stillness and sudden extreme movement creates a fantastic portrait of the wildness of this story.

All-in-all, Around the World in Eighty Days is a fabulous experience. The set (Mark Lund) is fabulously useful and beautiful and the costumes (Sarah Burch Gordon) are as luscious as the many cultures Phileas Fogg and his companions visit. Though the sound mixing was somewhat awkward throughout, the show is a great one for the whole family and will, hopefully, inspire those who have not read the works of the great Jules Verne as of yet to visit their local library and do so!

Review by Andrew J. Perez

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