Star rating: three and a half stars
Maybe it’s the British accents or the horse-clopping sight gags, but playwright Mark Brown’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days—now finishing its run at Bethesda’s Round House Theatre—has a Monty Python-esque quality to it. Yet director Nick Olcott’s take on the jovial script feels fresh, adventurous, and fun.
The classic tale feels right at home onstage as confident explorer Phileas Fogg (Mitchell Hébert) sets out to win a £20,000 wager by circumnavigating the globe in 80 days, a daring challenge in 1872 when Verne wrote his novel. The five-person cast juggles far more than five roles with ease, and their blink-of-an-eye costume changes and colorful array of accents and physicalities transition smoothly. Besides Hébert, whose cool and collected Fogg anchors the show, James Konicek’s chameleon-like performance is jaw-dropping; each of his fleeting impersonations is textured, distinct, and often hysterical. The cast works as one well-oiled vessel, with all its shiny parts humming as it chugs from London to Calcutta to San Francisco.
A few superfluous characters and sticky subplots hardly weigh down the show, which is buoyed by snappy interplay and staging. The actors’ physical synchronization makes a typhoon believable and a swaying ocean voyage appropriately nauseating. The sparse set is a predictable collection of nautical wheels, compasses, and high-backed leather armchairs, but the cast makes it come alive.
The show is for all ages, filled with action and humor of wide appeal—as long as you don’t mind a bit of political incorrectness here and there. For all its slapstick and silliness, Around the World stays sharp.
At the Round House Theatre in Bethesda through May 30. Tickets ($30 to $50, with discounts for seniors, students, and the under-30 crowd) available here.