Monday, December 4, 2017

TheatreWorks takes great trip 'Around the World in 80 Days'

Parsi (Michael Gene Sullivan, center) and his elephant give a lift to (from left) Phileas Fogg (Jason Kuykendall), Passepartout (Tristan Cunningham), and Sir Francis (Ron Campbell). (Photo by Kevin Berne)
Versatile acting is on full display in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of “Around the World in 80 Days.”

Directed by Robert Kelley, four of the cast’s five actors play an array of characters of varied ages, sexes and nationalities as Phileas Fogg (Jason Kuykendall) undertakes his epic journey in 1872.

In Mark Brown’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s’ novel, the journey starts with a bet at Fogg’s club in London. Newly opened links make the 80-day feasible, figures the cool, math-minded Fogg. He’s joined by his French valet, Passepartout (Tristan Cunningham).

They’re shadowed by Detective Fix (Michael Gene Sullivan), who believes that the free-spending Fogg is the notorious gentleman bank robber. In India, Fogg and Passepartout rescue a woman, Aouda (Ajna Jai), from execution by fire. She then joins them.

Beset by travails, they travel by boat, train, elephant and even sail-driven snow sledge (but not the hot air balloon seen in the film) on their way to a happy ending for all concerned.

Cunningham, Sullivan and Jai play many other characters, but the most roles go to Ron Campbell, a master of accents and quick changes.

These changes by him and his colleagues are aided by B. Modern’s attractive, often ingenious costumes. Campbell has the one drawing the biggest laughs when, portraying an official welcoming the travelers to Liverpool, England, he resembles John Lennon from the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover.

Adding to the fun are the inventive sets (the elephant is a work of whimsy in itself) by Joe Ragey, complemented by Steven B. Mannshardt’s lighting and Cliff Caruthers’ sound.

Although the overall acting is impressive, one drawback is that some accents are hard to understand. Projection could be better at times, too.

Otherwise, this is a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “Around the World in 80 Days”  will continue through Dec. 31 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. For tickets and information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit