INsite Magazine

Friday, April 16, 2010

Around the World in 80 Days

Photo from The Hippodrome's website

The theater might cause some to stray away. Thoughts of yawning and boredom play across minds. But the Hippodrome’s Around the World in 80 Days is not typical theater.

The year is 1872. Train is the mode of travel. India is still British soil. Director Lauren Caldwell turns this into a bizarre setting – colorful drapes stream across the ceiling, adorned by Christmas lights and paper lanterns. Two small fish tanks outline the sides, representing travel by sea. Clocks tick in the background, glowing and spinning fast. This is a place where five actors play 39 characters, utilizing every aspect of the stage, including the audience.

Mark Brown’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel begins much the same: our protagonist, Phileas Fogg, places a wager at his Reform Club. He is a strict, precise man with a new servant: an ex-circus act Frenchman named Passepartout. Phileas rarely falls off schedule and gives Passepartout exact times and directions for when he should complete his duties. This stringency leads him to bet 20,000 pounds he can travel around the world in 80 days. Phileas’ cyclical life and plan begin to haze when it’s reported a gentleman bank robber is on the run; he’s the lead suspect.  A stubborn, clumsy Detective Fix, bearing much resemblance to Inspector Clouseau, follows the duo. He’s convinced by his “sixth sense” Phileas is the robber. His frivolous spending adds to suspicion, ensuring obstacles, missed trains and humorous detours.

Around the World’s comedy doesn’t necessarily come from the situations, but absurdity. Five actors play 39 riotous characters, meaning they quickly adapt their wardrobe on stage for each portrayal. Whether they switched hats or wear stereotypical clothing, laughing commenced. They’re not limited to humans, though. When in India, Sir Francis joins Detective Fix, Phileas and Passepartout. Their train cannot travel any further, so the three go by elephant. The costume? Each represents a different part of the elephant – flopping ears, legs and face. The play relies on audiences’ imaginations and ability to let loose. To represent traveling by train, the actors took out glowing cylinder frames and moved them in a chugging motion. They also hopped on trampolines to depict the shaking, delivering even more laughs.If it weren’t for the actors’ incredible ability to never break character, Around the World would not have been successful.

Dozing off or texting away isn’t an option during Around the World. The unconventional use of imagination brings roars of laughter as the actors walk through the tightly packed aisles, up wooden stair rails and shoot water. It’s a tale of adventure and romance, but most of all, lightheartedness. The play opens today and runs through May 9 at the Hippodrome. Tickets range from $25-30 for general audiences and $12 for students.

- Nicole La Hoz

First person to comment or retweet this wins free tickets to opening night tonight 4/16 at 8pm. 

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