Around the World in 80 Days

Jules Verne's classic comedy adventure sets sail with seemingly stuffy 19th-century Brit Phileas Fogg (Matthew Floyd Miller), when he proposes a wager to his social-club fellows that he can indeed pull off the title deed. Embarking instantly with the help of a new manservant, the bumbling but faithful Passapartout (Gendell Hernandez), Fogg engages trains, boats and elephants in his zeal to win the bet. All the while, the pair is tracked by Detective Fix (Howard Swain), who believes Fogg to be guilty of grand larceny. Feminine company is provided by Aouda, an Indian woman they rescue from being burned alive on her husband's bier. In addition to these central figures, the cast members portray more than 30 smaller roles in a frenetic chamber-theater piece combining first-person narration, complex characterizations and 2-D caricatures. Kelly Tighe's smart scenery amusingly captures the melding of Verne's old-century technology with futuristic sensibilities — most effective is a large turntable, interestingly operated by highly visible stagehands rather than electricity. Director Michael Butler keeps the actors racing through the story, averting any possibility of boredom; nevertheless, the production is far from satisfying. Adaptor Mark Brown presents little wit, if any, in the language, or humor in the action to compensate. Brown and his fine actors try to goose it, with increasingly silly gags and anachronisms, from which they earn the play's only laughs. As this is the case, they are fortunate to include comic actor Mark Farrell in more than 20 roles (including a William Shatner–esque cavalry commander) with a shameless sketch-comedy flair. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach; Tues-Sat., 8 p.m.; mats. Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; added perfs Jan. 22, 2 p.m., and Feb. 1, 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 8. (949) 497-2787 or www.LagunaPlayhouse.com.
Sat., Jan. 10, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Thu., Jan. 22, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 1, 7 p.m. Starts: Jan. 10. Continues through Feb. 8, 2009