The Omaha Community Playhouse is diving into the second half of its 2016-2017 theater season with a production of “Around the World in Eighty Days” under the direction of Carl Beck.
The cast of the performance is a mere five members. This small group of thespians coupled with innovative set design portray the tale of Englishman Phileas Fogg and his French servant Jean Passepartout as they attempt to travel around the world in 80 days.
“Around the World in Eighty Days” is based on the French novel by the same. Originally written by novelist Jules Verne and published in 1873, the story has seen a smooth transition into English and the stage.
At the beginning of the performance the audience is introduced to the absurd Phileas Fogg, played by Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek. He is oddly calculating, seemingly unreasonable and a wealthy Englishman. A mysterious aura surrounds the character that is peeled away, piece by piece, as his more human emotions and motives are exposed by his journey around the world.
Jean Passepartout, played by Ablan Roblin, is the newly hired servant to Fogg. This French man is seeking a simpler life in London but quickly finds himself swept up into the bizarre life of his new employer. Throughout the play this character is a centerpiece of the comedy. Roblin’s explosive performance does the character of Passepartout justice.
Aouda, played by Teri Fender, joins Fogg and Passepartout after an impromptu decision to save her from fanatics. This character is essential in the development of Fogg’s personality as she assists in the unveiling of deeper emotions behind the calculating man.
Half of the humor spawned throughout the play can be credited to the impressive speed with which the actors change costume and character. This is particularly true for Ben Beck and Monty Eich, two of the five cast members, who vanish off stage and return within the minute in an entirely new character.
This rapid character switching leads to Eich and Beck playing a barrage of characters throughout the performance. Both of the actors do this fantastically, completely reworking their mannerisms and voice for each character.
One unfortunate aspect of the play is its, at times, unflattering use of foreign accents, outfits and stereotypes. A drawback to a production that is based on a publication made over a century ago is some of its outdated mediums for humor.
A particularly distasteful scene includes the portrayal of Native Americans as savages attacking a train that is transporting Fogg, Passepartout and company. Additionally, the use of Indian and Chinese accents can easily be seen as less than politically correct.
Regardless of some off-putting themes, Omaha Community Playhouse’s “Around the World in Eighty Days” is definitely worth the watch. The play keeps a nice tempo, never letting audience members feel bored. Those seeking quality local theater should definitely consider this as one of their first stops.
The show will be running through Feb. 12 in the Omaha Community Playhouse’s Hawks Mainstage Theatre. Single tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students on all days except Wednesday. On Wednesday adult tickets cost $28 and student tickets cost $16.