Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS

Wendy Rosenfield calls this production, on the Walnut's tiny Studio 3 stage, a "small wonder" of inventive staging and costumes.

Review: AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS

[BYLINE]By Wendy Rosenfield
[/BYLINE][BYCREDIT]FOR THE INQUIRER
[/BYCREDIT]When last we saw Phileas Fogg traveling [ITALIC]Around the World in 80 Days[/ITALIC], he landed in Delaware Theatre Company’s big, spare, delightfully imaginative, Barrymore Award-winning mainstage show. Now, a few seasons later, he’s back visiting the Walnut Street Theatre’s tiny Studio 3 in an equally delightful, up-close version of that same Mark Brown adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel. 
Where the earlier production used the power of suggestion to evoke Fogg’s global adventures, here director Bill Van Horn and set designer Andrew Thompson present his journey from within and all around a Victorian cabinet of curiosities: a wood-paneled wall whose recesses pop out, slide or swivel open to reveal a ship’s captain, angry Indian priests, or a dryer vent-cum-elephant’s trunk. 
This cast, which includes Van Horn, John Zak, Damon Bonetti and Sarah Gliko in multiple roles, embraces Van Horn’s madcap pace. Whether it’s Zak rolling Marty Feldman eyes as hapless Fogg-chasing Detective Fix or Bonetti’s Inspector Clouseau-style verbal contortions as Fogg’s valet Passepartout, compressed in this space, with everyone occasionally hopping aboard a shape-shifting platform hand truck, the fun multiplies.
But adapter Brown’s tale has a bit more heart than Verne’s, and Anthony Lawton’s stoic Fogg, (almost) never cracking a smile, keeps it beating at a steady pace. Fogg accepted the wager on a round-the-world challenge with the assumption that “the unforseen does not exist,” and Lawton keeps Fogg’s travels and demeanor as tight as Studio 3, until his world begins to open up in ways that are, yes, unforseen. 
Among many gems in this small wonder, Mary Folino’s costumes lend the whole endeavor both a lightness — along with some steampunkish flourishes, vests and cravats are embroidered with whimsical cursive lettering and charts — and gravity. Gliko’s ruffled, corseted, embroidered gowns, the men’s stripes, plaids, checks, jacquards, foulards, and everyone’s felted, flowered chapeaux, parade past like gifts from a global bazaar. 
Jules Verne once wrote, “Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” This production also proves that imagination adapts to however much room it’s given, and under the right conditions, a cabinet can be just as thrilling as a wide-open stage.
By Wendy Rosenfield

FOR THE INQUIRER

When last we saw Phileas Fogg traveling Around the World in 80 Days, he landed in Delaware Theatre Company’s big, spare, delightfully imaginative, Barrymore Award-winning mainstage show. Now, a few seasons later, he’s back visiting the Walnut Street Theatre’s tiny Studio 3 in an equally delightful, up-close version of that same Mark Brown adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel. 

Where the earlier production used the power of suggestion to evoke Fogg’s global adventures, here director Bill Van Horn and set designer Andrew Thompson present his journey from within and all around a Victorian cabinet of curiosities: a wood-paneled wall whose recesses pop out, slide or swivel open to reveal a ship’s captain, angry Indian priests, or a dryer vent-cum-elephant’s trunk. 

This cast, which includes Van Horn, John Zak, Damon Bonetti and Sarah Gliko in multiple roles, embraces Van Horn’s madcap pace. Whether it’s Zak rolling Marty Feldman eyes as hapless Fogg-chasing Detective Fix or Bonetti’s Inspector Clouseau-style verbal contortions as Fogg’s valet Passepartout, compressed in this space, with everyone occasionally hopping aboard a shape-shifting platform hand truck, the fun multiplies.

But adapter Brown’s tale has a bit more heart than Verne’s, and Anthony Lawton’s stoic Fogg, (almost) never cracking a smile, keeps it beating at a steady pace. Fogg accepted the wager on a round-the-world challenge with the assumption that “the unforeseen does not exist,” and Lawton keeps Fogg’s travels and demeanor as tight as Studio 3, until his world begins to open up in ways that are, yes, unforeseen.

Among many gems in this small wonder, Mary Folino’s costumes lend the whole endeavor both a lightness — along with some steampunkish flourishes, vests and cravats are embroidered with whimsical cursive lettering and charts — and gravity. Gliko’s ruffled, corseted, embroidered gowns, the men’s stripes, plaids, checks, jacquards, foulards, and everyone’s felted, flowered chapeaux, parade past like gifts from a global bazaar. 

Jules Verne once wrote, “Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” This production also proves that imagination adapts to however much room it’s given, and under the right conditions, a cabinet can be just as thrilling as a wide-open stage.

Playing at: Walnut Street Theatre Studio 3, 825 Walnut St. Through Sun., Feb. 3. Tickets: $30 to $40. Information: 215-574-3550 or www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org

About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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