Damon Bonetti, a popular Philadelphia actor and director at various theaters and Co-Founding Artistic Director of The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective (The PAC), is directing a new production of Around the World in 80 Days at Hedgerow Theatre, America’s oldest resident repertory theatre, founded in 1923. In this interview, Damon talks about the international aspect, the humor, but also the wisdom of this play by Mark Brown, based on the famous novel by Jules Verne.
Henrik: What childhood experiences did you have that connected you the world outside the United States?
Damon: The first time I was out of the country was for a marching band tour that took us to England, France, and Italy. I’ve always been fascinated by history — a trait engrained in me from weekends with my dad going to historical sites and museums in the Philly area. So, going overseas, like Passepartout [the French valet of the English main character, Phileas Fogg, in Around the World in 80 Days. His surname translates literally to “goes everywhere”], I had my guide books and tried to see as much (and eat as much!) as I could!
You have directed and performed in many plays that took you around the world. Which ones impacted your work the most?
There have been a bunch, but in 2003, I was fortunate to work on Red Bessie, a new play by Jack Gilhooley — a two-person drama with songs about the Spanish Civil War and the Lincoln Brigade in particular: Americans that were fighting against Franco. We performed this as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for 10 days in the Caves at the Gilded Balloon and busked in the street, singing these pro-Union, anti-Fascism songs.
Given the xenophobic attitudes of certain politicians in places of power, what did you do in directing Around the World in 80 Days, based on Jules Verne’s famous novel, to open borders for your audience?
I don’t know if there’s much in the way of political commentary in this play. It’s a romp more than a satire (which, sometimes is what we need to escape for a few hours). Fogg is escaping from something and has to travel around the world to truly find himself. I hope that we don’t have to go that far to discover what we love and what matters!
Which quotes from this production, based on the Mark Brown adaptation, epitomize the essence of this play the most for you?
AOUDA. Is it all mathematics to you?
FOGG. It is constant and reliable.
I’ve always loved this little exchange — even though it’s so sad to me: in the middle of this romp around the world is this man that we don’t get to learn much about in terms of his back story. At his core, he seems to have been wounded by life so he has structured his daily life to an absolute time table. It’s only through time and through opening himself up that he eventually learns that there is more to life than mathematics.
If you had all the money in the world and could take the actors on a journey abroad, where would you take them and why?
Oh man, after all the work these guys have done on this show, they just need to relax in the Cinque Terre in Italy — lovely little towns, hiking, stunning views, amazing people — and just a place to stay and not worry about traveling around anywhere for a while!
Wonderful! Is there anything else that you would like to share?
I’ve said it before, there’s no lovelier place outside, nor funnier inside than Hedgerow in the summer. Bring the family — it’s good for kids — and have a great time!
Multi grazie, merci bien, vielen Dank, many thanks, Damon. See y’all on opening night.
Running Time: Two hours, with a 10-minute intermission.