|Pictured is Priscilla Howell (Aouda) |
and James Van Eaton (Fogg)
By Tina Arth
In community theater reviews, “farce” or “melodrama” can often be found immediately preceding the words “train wreck.” Combine and augment these words, as in “melodramatic slapstick farce,” and the chance of getting a decent show drops to vanishingly slim – but Beaverton Civic Theatre has beaten the odds with an utterly delightful production of Around the World in 80 Days. The witty script, talented cast, and a remarkable director combine to produce one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in years.
When Jules Verne wrote the original novel in 1873, it was almost unimaginable that Englishman Phileas Fogg would be able to circumnavigate the globe in only 80 days. Playwright Mark Brown has turned Verne’s adventure story into a cheerful send-up of both colonial and theatrical manners and mores, and director Susan Giberson has ensured that the audience and actors derive equal enjoyment from the production. The eight-person cast is neatly split – half play a single part throughout, and the other half fill 30+ smaller roles with a controlled frenzy of quick-change (of clothing, manner, and accents). The set evolves almost as quickly as the cast – in two acts, facilitated by minimalist props, we see London, Suez, Bombay, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco, the American West, New York, and Liverpool before returning to London. In Giberson’s hands, the resulting show is kind of Monty Python with touches of Marx Brothers, Three Stooges, and Inspector Clouseau.
The team of James Van Eaton (as Fogg) and Adam Caniparoli (as his faithful valet, Passepartout) is pure magic. Van Eaton’s stern, dignified mien (accented by his impressive height) starkly contrasts with Caniparoli’s hyperactive and flamboyant Gallic persona (and markedly less imposing stature); Van Eaton’s patience with his quirky sidekick gives us our first clue that Fogg is hiding surprising depths beneath his stiff exterior. The third cog in the comic core is Jeff Giberson (as the maddeningly persistent Detective Fix), whose melodramatic investigative techniques provide a continuous flow of droll absurdity to this already funny show.
Like her male counterparts, Priscilla Howell (Aouda) gives her all to the physical comedy of the role. Within the span of a few weeks she is illogically transformed from a delicate and distressed jewel of the East to an articulate and elegant young lady suited to be Fogg’s bride – within the context of the show it all makes perfect sense.
Among the other four cast members (simply identified as “Actor” in the cast list) Allen Denison demands special recognition. As the show’s narrator, he carefully maintains a seriocomic expression but is frequently on the verge of laughter. His sparkling eyes and occasional grin provide subtle breaks in the “fourth wall,” welcoming the audience as partners in the fun. Another lighthearted touch comes from the sets/props – a few boxes, a slab of cardboard, the omnipresent clock, and (my personal favorite) a ladder and flexible dryer duct to create the hilarious Kiouni, a war elephant whose gait is so steady that one can serve tea while mounted atop her massive frame.
Sandi King’s costume design ranges from the detailed authenticity required for Fogg and Aouda to the simple touches required for rapid transformations (sometimes on stage) of the supporting cast. A special shout out also to stage manager Lisa Boudry and her backstage crew – I’ve seen the space behind the proscenium, and it is nothing short of miraculous that they are able to keep things moving smoothly given the fast pacing and complexity of the show.
Beaverton Civic’s Around the World in 80 Days will make you laugh (a lot). While one could delve for deeper themes, and find them, my personal recommendation is that you go simply for an unabashedly enjoyable couple of hours watching a truly funny show.
Around the World in 80 Days runs through Saturday, May 14th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, 12375 SW Fifth Street, Beaverton, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.