Around the World in 80 Days, Lifeline Theatre. From the time it first appeared in 1872 as a magazine serial, Jules Verne’s jolly travel tale has been ripe for dramatization. Verne himself coauthored one stage adaptation, and several more spectacles played on Broadway and around the globe; Mike Todd’s epic 1956 film was the outgrowth of a failed theatrical extravaganza Todd tried to cook up with Orson Welles.
There’s nothing spectacular or epic about the charmingly scruffy story-theater adaptation playwright John Hildreth and director Dorothy Milne have cooked up for Lifeline’s family audiences. Phileas Fogg’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days–an adventure punctuated by such exotic barbarities as an Indian human sacrifice, a Chinese opium den, and an American political demonstration–is depicted through playfully simple means: actors bouncing on chairs to indicate a train ride or moving in slow motion to pantomime a riot, an elephant symbolized by two cloth legs and a string tail. The only thing missing is a map, which would have clarified Fogg’s improbable itinerary.
The play’s episodic structure and talky narration muddies the story’s dramatic arc–Fogg’s gradual transformation from aloof, aristocratic automaton to loyal friend and tender lover. But the actors capture Verne’s droll satire of the stiff-upper-lip English gentleman (Peter Greenberg as Fogg), flamboyant Frenchman (Robert Kauzlaric as Fogg’s high-strung valet, Passepartout), and dense, dutiful detective (Reid Ostrowski as Fix, the policeman fixated on Fogg as a bank robbery suspect).