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