French novelist Jules Verne published one of his most famous novels, Around the World in 80 Days, in 1873. It remains one of his most acclaimed works. I first encountered it in my 11th grade French literature class. It’s been filmed many times for both the big and small screens, including the 1956 Academy Award Best Picture winner that featured a star-studded cast of over 40 International performers in cameo roles. I saw a musical adaptation, 80 Days, at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1988. But I had never seen playwright Mark Brown’s five-actor adaptation until the current Actors Co-Op production even though the play has twice been in the Top Ten Most Produced Plays in the USA.
Brown has skillfully pared the 80 day journey into a fast-paced two-hour plus madcap adventure that is a real workout for its cast. Director Rhonda Kohl has masterfully melded her cast into a finely tuned ensemble and they played together as well as off each other splendidly. Philip Kreyche was the only member of the quintet to essay just one character throughout, the leading role of mathematically inclined Phileas Fogg. Kreyche brought the requisite British gentleman’s stiff upper lip to his portrayal of a tightly wound male who slowly unwinds due to the vagaries of his journey and the companionship of his newly hired manservant Passepartout (Andrew Carter doing a devilishly sly Frenchman) and Aouda (the endearing Eva Abramian), the Indian widow they rescued from her deceased husband’s funeral pyre. Bruce Ladd etched a diverse series of characters although in the main he was the dogged and slightly inept Detective Fix of Scotland Yard. At times on opening night Ladd’s facial hair acted against him but that only added to the general hilarity of his characterizations. The very talented Kevin Coubal could easily challenge Meryl Streep in an accent contest as he created 17 varied characters from British judges to Chinese opium den proprietors to Wild West gunmen to Mudge. His yeoman like work full of rapid exits and entrances and quick costume changes were marvelous to watch. There are plenty of laughs to be mined in the script and this director and cast was comprised of excellent miners.
David Goldstein’s scenic design featured lots of clocks and luggage and easily transformed into various locations. At one point it even became an elephant. Wendell C. Carmichael’s costumes, Krys Fehervari’s hair design and Matthew Taylor’s lighting all added to the excellence of the production. Actors Co-Op is creating theatrical magic on the stage of the David Schall Theatre as Fogg and company race Around the World in 80 Days. Book your passage now.
David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St. in Hollywood. Ends June 14. 323-462-8460 or www.actorsco-op.org.