By John Lyle Belden
While 19th century author Jules Verne indulged in some of the first popular works of what came to be known as science-fiction, one of his most popular novels dealt with a bit of science fact: in the 1800s it was possible to travel around the entire Planet Earth in under three months.
However, Belfry Theatre has only two hours to show how it was done, so thanks to dramatic license, a talented small cast, and a table full of radio-era sound effects – employing a comic adaptation by Mark Brown – we go “Around the World in 80 Days” at Theater at the Fort in Lawrence.
French adventurer and stickler for details Passepartout (Bryan Ball Cavajal) seeks to take it easy as a manservant for the most predictably boring gentleman in London, Mr. Phileas Fogg (Brad Staggs). However, on his first day on the job, Fogg rushes home and says to pack a carpetbag at once and hands Passepartout a big roll of British banknotes. It turns out our master has taken up a wager against the men at his posh club to travel around the world in 80 days – or less! – taking advantage of modern steamships and a newly-completed railway in India.
The era’s technology makes the journey possible, and Fogg’s mathematical mind helps him get ahead of schedule. However, Scotland Yard Detective Fix (Austin Uebelhor) suspects the money our hero hands out freely was stolen by a mysterious Gentleman Bandit. If the warrant arrives at a stop in the global British Empire at the same time as “Inspectimafix” and Fogg, arrest and detainment could mean losing the very expensive bet – even if our traveler is innocent. Fortunately, Fix is no fox, and the globetrotting chase takes some interesting turns.
The story is acted and narrated by a cast that also includes Sarah Eberhardt as practically every officer, sea-captain and official in the Empire; Uebelhor in other costumed personae; Eric Dixon in various parts as well as noises at the Foley table; and Barb Weaver, who also plays Auoda, the doomed widow rescued in India by Fogg and Passepartout. Directed by Eric Matters, this production is loaded with wit and sight-gags, paced so you’ve experienced quite an adventure by the time our party returns to London.
The antics of Cavajal, especially when sparring with Uebelhor, are a delight. Everhardt’s versatility and comic timing are impeccable. Staggs keeps Fogg as stiff as his stovepipe hat, while allowing enough humanity to keep him likable, especially in Weaver’s charming presence.
There are actually only three days left on this fun journey, with four performances: Friday and Saturday evenings, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Feb. 17-19. Catch the action at 8920 Otis Ave., Lawrence. Get info and tickets at TheBelfryTheatre.com or ArtsForLawrence.org.