Around the World in 80 Days
Book by Mark Brown
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.
3/17-19, 8 p.m. • 3/20, 3 p.m.
Tickets: $22-25 • www.thalianhall.com
Jules Verne wrote epic tales that take adventurous souls from their neighborhood library to distant places: eastern countries, deserted islands, undersea, the center of the Earth, the moon. His 19th century works predicted the discovery of many 20th century firsts, such as submarines and space travel; Verne is the inventor of the science-fiction genre.
Playwright Mark Brown adapted one of Verne’s famous novels, “Around the World in 80 Days,” into a story for the stage. Set in 1872, the plot follows Phileas Fogg, a wealthy man of London who bets his life’s fortune that he will circumnavigate the globe in no more than 80 days. With his servant by his side, Fogg attempts to venture eastward by steamship and rail, carrying only one bag of clean clothes and a stack of bank notes. Yet in his worldwide travels, he encounters a slew of tribulations. Each problem sets Fogg back by days, and the audience is left to wonder whether he will make it back to London by his deadline.
Being fans of any good story, the folks at Thalian Association chose to take on the play, running at Thalian Hall from Thursday, March 17th, through Sunday, March 20th. Director Lee Lowrimore gave us some insight into the production.
“The play is inventive and challenging,” Lowrimore shares with encore. “’Around the World in 80 Days’ has the sweep of a grand story that’s told in intimate terms. Five actors portray 32 parts, with a table and four chairs becoming all the things they need.”
Lowrimore and his cast of five work very closely with the set designer, costumer, sound manager and props mistress to create the effect that Fogg is indeed traveling the world—even more so that he’s traveling in 1872. Christy Grantham researched pieces from the period, like arrest warrants and passports, then created the show’s props. Jonathan Graves diligently worked in the sound booth to build jungle noises and even an Apache attack.
“A play like this requires a lot of collaboration,” Lowrimore says. “Everyone—actors, director, designers, and artistic director—has had a hand in developing what the production will be. Their work will help take the audience to another time and place.”
Terry Collins designed the set for the play. Although it begins with what is really just the furniture from a family of four’s dining room, these tables and chairs transport the cast from London public spaces to far-off lands. “Terry gave us multiple levels and staircases, creating both open space and well-defined areas,” the director explains. “[He] gave the set the look of a Victorian train station, producing a great sense of style, and he’s using rear projections to inject a sense of fun.”
As a special treat, and thanks to Collins’ addition of projection panels, this show will feature Gina Gambony’s shadow puppets in many scenes. With 32 characters to play, the cast members will need all the help they can get. Actor Ron Hasson plays half of the parts himself. As a reminder of the different personalities he must assume, he’s made notes in his script of the voice, posture and gestures of each character he plays.
“Bradley Coxe, as Phileas Fogg, can do very subtle work and is very good at subtext,” Lowrimore claims. “Caitlin Becka is always likable on stage. She brings great physical control to her characters, choosing very simple things that distinguish one from the other.”
Steve Coley and Robb Mann round out the cast list. All will be dressed by professional costumer Susanna Douthit. “She has a great history of building costumes all across the country, and we’re very lucky to have her on this project,” the director adds. “I’m very excited about how our show will look.”
No show is complete, of course, without an audience. Lowrimore says the viewers are key players in “80 Days.” “The audience brings the final part of the equation: their imagination,” he says. “I think one of best things theatre does is invite the audience to see beyond the small scope of our little stage, to encompass the whole world with their minds, to see not five actors, a table and four chairs, but steamships, sailing ships, trains and typhoons.”
Lowrimore and his crew eagerly took on the challenge of creating this show because the story provides a greater message. Though Fogg has set a goal and intends to keep it, he comes across unforeseen obstacles. Despite its 19th century setting, the lesson is still valuable today: “No matter how good our schedules are, nor how elaborate our plans, things happen in life,” Lowrimore asserts. “The true measure of a person is what he or she does when schedules are interrupted and plans go awry.”