Review: ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ at Hedgerow Theatre

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Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.

Hedgerow Theatre Company has found a way to make you feel like a world traveler without ever leaving Delaware County. Hedgerow’s lively production of Around the World in 80 Days, Mark Brown’s adaptation of the Jules Verne classic, uses five actors and some deft staging to convey the humor and adventure of this timeless tale.

Jared Reed. Photo by Ashley LaBonde of Wide Eyed Studios.

Jared Reed. Photo by Ashley LaBonde of Wide Eyed Studios.

Jules Verne’s tale of Phileas Fogg, a man who attempts to circumnavigate the world in less than three months was popular pretty much from the day it was published in 1873. Fogg takes on the bet for 20,000 British pounds — which would be approximately $2.5 million today.

Verne was an author enthralled by technology, and he wrote at a time when the 19th century’s technological advances had made the possibility of actually travelling around the world a reality. There were three breakthroughs in particular that made “tourist-like” travel around the globe a reality. The first of these was the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in America (1869); the second was the linking of the Indian railways across the sub-continent (1870); and the third was the opening of the Suez Canal (1869). Verne is often considered a science-fiction writer, but there is nothing futuristic about Around the World in 80 Days. It is actually an outsider’s portrait of the British Empire — on which, at the time, “the sun never set.”

Now that we’ve established context, let’s get to the fun part. And fun is what you’ll have throughout this excellent production. Director Damon Bonetti and his ensemble of five gifted comedic actors (portraying 39 characters) breathe great comedic life into Brown’s script, while still finding its heart. Employing clever stagecraft on Shaun Yates’ simple yet inventive set, these five actors take viewers on a whirlwind journey filled with laughs. Bonetti keeps the action flowing as Fogg and his resourceful servant Passepartout journey from London to the Suez, then on to Italy, India, Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, New York and finally back to London. Along the way, they encounter thieving monks, stampeding elephants, runaway trains, marauding Indians and a raging typhoon — and they rescue a beautiful Indian woman! The ensemble morphs into character after character, and Bonetti’s deft skill at farce is evident in each one.

Sarah Knittel. Photo by Ashley LaBonde of Wide Eyed Studios.

Sarah Knittel. Photo by Ashley LaBonde of Wide Eyed Studios.

Jared Reed’s Fogg is all British stiff-upper-lip restraint, yet he gives the viewer occasional peeks at the loneliness inside this man. Reed isn’t afraid of the unlikeable parts of Fogg, or the vulnerable parts. As Passepartout (which translates as “goes everywhere”), Sarah Knittel is a joy to watch. Her mastery of physical comedy and her way with the lines is superb. Mark Swift impresses with his physical and verbal dexterity; he jumps from accent to accent with ease — playing Indian guides, train conductors and cowpokes. His turn as a Barney Fife-like Detective Fix is a hoot. Hanna Gaffney gender-bends as assorted male characters, and then dazzles as the beautiful and exotic Aouda, who is rescued by Fogg and Passepartout. Zoran Kovcic tackles (as listed in the program) “Everybody Else” with his usual aplomb. He goes from pompous British barrister to gun-toting Wild West general to crusty sea captain with decidedly funny results.

The technical aspects of Around the World in 80 Days are also well done. Yates’ aforementioned set is perfectly lit by James Lewis, while Aaron Oster’s soundscape puts just the right button on the ensemble’s play. Janus Stefanowicz has found a terrific array of costumes to evoke the primness of Brits in the late 19th century, as well as the mysteriousness of the Far East and the ruggedness of the American West.

Around the World in 80 Days is just plain old fun. Kids from 8 to 108 will thoroughly enjoy this telling of Jules Verne’s classic tale. Make the time to go see this one. Hey, pack a lunch or dinner and enjoy the lovely garden outside the theatre!

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, including intermission.

Hanna Gaffney, Mark Swift, Jared Reed (rear), and Sarah Knittel. Photo by Ashley LaBonde of Wide Eyed Studios.

Hanna Gaffney, Mark Swift, Jared Reed (rear), and Sarah Knittel. Photo by Ashley LaBonde of Wide Eyed Studios.

Around the World in 80 Days plays through June 11, 2017 at Hedgerow Theatre Company – 64 Rose Valley Road, in Rose Valley, PA. For tickets, call (610) 565-4211, or purchase them online.

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