Los Angeles Daily News: ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ hits its stride at Long Beach Playhouse

Lisa March and Rick Reischman star in the Long Beach Playhouse production of “Around the World in 80 Days,” which continues through May 7. (Michael Hardy Photography) 

By Dany Margolies

Jaxson Brashier, left, and Rick Reischman chart a course in “Around the World in 80 Days.” (Michael Hardy Photography) 

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

★★★★

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 7.

Where: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St.

Tickets: $14-$24.

Information: 562-494-1014,www.lbplayhouse.org.

One actor dropped his moustache, another dropped his lines. It doesn’t matter whether these were opening-night fumbles or thoroughly rehearsed comedy bits. In “Around the World in 80 Days” at Long Beach Playhouse, they only add to the fun.

Playwright Mark Brown adapted this work from the classic novel by Jules Verne, in which Victorian British gentleman Phileas Fogg and his faithful servant Passepartout travel the globe on a bet — and on the most-modern and the most-traditional means, depending on what’s at hand at the moment.

The virtuous but persnickety Fogg is a quiet do-gooder, concerned more with proving a point than with profiting from his actions. So when fellow members of his gentlemen’s club bet him he can’t make it around the world and back to the club in precisely 80 days, he spends the wager before winning it, acting with kindness and wisdom even if he risks not finishing his circumnavigation.

This sounds like serious stuff, but much humor comes from the staging, some written into the script and some from this production’s helmer, Gregory Cohen, whose direction evidences caring about the audience experience.

Brown casts one actor to play Fogg, then divides the many other characters among four other actors. That means Cohen’s actors must be ready with instantaneous changes of deportment, accents and costumes — and, likely, the ability to work around those commedia dell’arte bits of “dropped” moustaches and “forgotten” lines.

Rick Reischman plays Fogg throughout, elegantly at the center of this madcap maelstrom as his cast mates spin and leap onstage and off at a dizzying, beautifully rehearsed pace.

The perpetually cheerful Stephen Alan Carver plays the self-deprecating yet overly confident French servant, Passepartout, as well as a British newsman and a co-narrator.

Lisa March takes on her share of male characters, but she gets to spend the play’s second half as Aouda, the lovely widow Fogg rescues in India and brings along on the remainder of his travels, fortunately for both of them.

Mark Fields Davidson takes on Scotland Yard’s Detective Fix, who tails Fogg after mistaking him for a bank robber. But Davidson is tasked with nearly a dozen more roles, from Americans (one of whom he performs in a Jimmy Stewart impression) to East Indians (perfectly pronouncing the rolled “r” of the region).

Playing an Irish seafarer, Chinese “broker,” English aristocrat and plenty more, Jaxson Brashier takes an opposite but equally funny tack, forgoing precision to work in accents apparently learned from listening to Peter Sellers.

Cohen includes modern references to Tim Burton and “Titanic.” But projections of 19th-century drawings — as well as an imaginative contraption that serves as train, ship and elephant — establish the scene on Spencer Richardson’s inviting set, evoking the open sea and crowded railway cars, sacred temples and opium dens.

Also establishing locale are Sean Gray’s sound, crisp in design and in the booth’s timing, and Daniel Driskill’s lighting of hot days and chill nights.

Donna Fritsche’s increasingly elaborate gowns for March are gorgeous, and a particularly memorable costume embodies a locomotive engine with billowing “steam” and a lighted headlight. But the jaw-droppers are Fritsche’s quick-change items that allow the actors to run up the theater’s stairs in traditional silken Chinese garb and run back down in yellow rain slicker, boots and hat.

The script is less chauvinistic, more feminist than might be expected. Sure, it includes a bit of stereotyping. But gun-wielding Americans take the brunt of the humor. And it pokes a bit of fun at all amateur travelers—particularly those who think they can buy what they need along the way, or who have left the house and then panic about forgetting to turn off the water/gas/electricity.

A few bits fall flat, some of the humor is pushed too hard, but this show is more memorably a delightful lesson in geography and graciousness.

It is not only appropriate for schoolchildren but also should be essential viewing for them. On opening night, a child in the front row was rapt throughout.

Dany Margolies is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

Rating: 4 stars

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 7.

Where: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St.

Tickets: $14-$24.

Information: 562-494-1014, www.lbplayhouse.org.

Mark Davidson

Los Angeles, CA, United States