“Fleetly directed by Thomas Caruso … In this day and age, when we can fly around the world in a matter of hours, all it takes is imagination.”

A Tech-Happy Global Race, at the Speed of Jules Verne 🔗
Sylviane GoldNew York Times

Phileas Fogg, the icy Englishman with a mania for whist and punctuality, was born in 1873, in Jules Verne’s deliciously wry novel “Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingts Jours” (translated that same year into “Around the World in 80 Days”). By 1874, Fogg’s bet-generated circumnavigation of the globe had already found a home on the Paris stage, in a spectacular production that featured a steamship, a live elephant and a locomotive pulling a three-car train.

The “Around the World in 80 Days” that opened last weekend at Penguin Rep gives us all of these people movers and more, but in the modern way: a multitude of characters portrayed by five actors, dozens of conveyances conjured by shifting arrangements of chairs and fabrics, ever-changing scenery communicated by barely any scenery at all. And, somehow, this low-tech approach suffices to evoke Verne’s paean to the technological wonders that had changed his world.

Mark Brown’s clever, lively stage adaptation is faithful to the writer’s voice (at least as it’s come down to us in English) and to the story — even though he makes short shrift of Fogg’s only passion, the bridgelike card game whist, and in the episode Verne bills as “only to be met with on American railroads,” he unaccountably turns Sioux attackers into geographically unlikely Apaches.

These are minor sins, not to be compared with the impractical, exceedingly un-Fogg-like balloon ride invented for David Niven in the 1956 movie and repeated in both the 1989 miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan and the 2004 remake with Jackie Chan. Happily, Penguin’s Phileas Fogg, Sam Guncler, is impeccably Foggian in his striped vest and precisely tied ascot (Patricia E. Doherty did the fine costumes), and he never boards a vehicle as erratic as a balloon. “The unforeseen does not exist,” he declares curtly, explaining why he is certain that modern transportation would allow him to circle the globe in 80 days.

Of course, his trip consists of almost nothing but the unforeseen, which is what turns it into an adventure rather than an exercise in scheduling. And Penguin’s renovated barn is intimate enough to allow the audience to register Mr. Guncler’s every quiver of surprise, his every raised eyebrow (let it here be noted that Mr. Guncler is ambi-eyebrowed — he can lift the one above his right eye as emphatically as he can the one that frames his left).

Mr. Guncler’s eyebrow gymnastics are matched on a grander scale by the physical exertions of the diminutive Hillel Meltzer as Passepartout, Fogg’s capable French servant. A gifted comedian, Mr. Meltzer deploys an astonishing array of elaborate shrugs, pratfalls and other cartoon contortions, as Passepartout becomes the indispensable facilitator of the show’s comedy as well as of Fogg’s enterprise.

Fogg encounters a variety of functionaries and fellow travelers — all with grotesquely thick accents and distinctive headgear — in the able persons of Andy Prosky and, especially, Michael Keyloun. Mr. Prosky spends most of his time impersonating the crafty and relentless Detective Fix, convinced that Fogg is not an eccentric Englishman on a bet but rather a thief on the run. Mr. Keyloun is particularly memorable as a Monty Python-esque judge and a gun-toting American yahoo with an aversion to foreigners. (I didn’t mind the clownish cowboy or the stereotyped Europeans; I even laughed at the exaggerated French accent that turned “peace pipe” into another, less savory item. But I found myself wincing at some of the jokier Asians and wondering if there wasn’t some way to get laughs without resorting to crude, outdated caricatures.)

Bushra Laskar dons trousers to play a few reporters and such, but her primary role is to enchant Fogg, and us, as Aouda, the beautiful young Indian widow he rescues from her husband’s funeral pyre because it is his duty, and, as it happens, he can spare the time.

The Penguin production, fleetly directed by Thomas Caruso, is performed in front of the large Mercator map and old-fashioned railway clock that dominate Joseph J. Egan’s spare stage set. Zachary Spitzer’s lighting creates 80 days and 80 nights, as well as a typhoon. In 1873, that would have required lots and lots of water. In this day and age, when we can fly around the world in a matter of hours, all it takes is imagination.

“Around the World in 80 Days’ is a funny, fast-paced wonder of a play, expertly cast and acted, and directed with just the right touch by Thomas Caruso…Who needs 80 days? Caruso and his exceptional team take us around the world in 2 hours.”

Penguin’s “Around the World in 80 Days” 🔗
Peter D. KramerTimes Herald Record

Like Phileas Fogg, the Londoner who circles the globe with just one servant and a carpetbag, the cast of Penguin Rep’s winning production of “Around the World in 80 Days” travels light.

Joseph J. Egan’s set is deceptively simple: two upstage arches echo the proscenium arch, creating the feel of looking into the wrong end of a globe-trotter’s telescope.

Otherwise, the stage is bare, except for a large, framed map of the world on the upstage wall and a sturdy table and chairs that the cast, and our imagination, turn into everything from a fast-moving sled to trains, steamships and even an elephant named Kiouni.

Rather than making the images seem smaller, this backward glimpse into the telescope reveals a huge story well told.

“Around the World in 80 Days” is a funny, fast-paced wonder of a play, expertly cast and acted, and directed with just the right touch by Thomas Caruso, who staged Penguin’s season-opener, Tom Dudzick’s “Over the Tavern.”

The epic story here is Jules Verne’s, of course, written in 1873. But Mark Brown has adapted it for four men and one woman, in multiple roles and has added dashes of comedy that will remind some of “Monty Python” skits.

Michael Keyloun plays no fewer than 16 parts, each distinct. Notable are Proctor, a Buffalo-Bill-Yosemite-Sam sort of character (with an uncooperative mustache), Speedy, the equally uncooperative Brooklyn sea captain, and Mudge, the buck-toothed sled driver.

Keyloun’s quick changes and impeccable delivery — in whichever role he’s playing at the moment — offer a fine example creating character with the voice, body and a minimum of lines.

When the curtain call arrives, one expects each of Keyloun’s characters to take a bow. The fact that one actor has done all of this work shows the power of his craft.

Hillel Meltzer brings all of his energy to the role of Passepartout, Fogg’s loyal French servant and traveling companion whose name translates as “to go everywhere.”

With an outrageous accent and acrobatic skills to match, Meltzer is a crowd favorite as he crawls, leaps and bounds across the tiny Penguin stage. Young theatergoers of 7 or older — for whom this show is particularly suited — are sure to get a charge out of his physicality; their parents are just as likely to marvel at his verbal gymnastics.

Andy Prosky also tackles his share of roles, as the whistle-speaking court clerk Oysterpuff, an elephant driver, and as Rev. Wilson’s servant, in a long, flowing dress. It is as Scotland Yard’s unstoppable Detective Fix that Prosky, the son of the late great actor Robert Prosky, is most memorable, a perfect foil for Meltzer’s athletic Frenchman.

Meltzer and Prosky are a team of opposites driven by different desires: the heart-on-his-sleeve Passepartout to serve his master; the sly Fix to get his man. Their stylized movements are part of the fun, a tip of the hat to vaudeville.

Bushra Laskar, a native Londoner and the cast’s lone female member, does some cross-dressing of her own, as a sometime narrator and newspaperman. But it is as Aouda — a woman saved from a certain death — that she shines brightest.

In Laskar’s hands, Aouda — whose name is pronounced like “ayuda,” the Spanish word for help — emerges as an equal to Fogg.

Sam Guncler, seen in several Penguin productions — “The Goldman Project” and “Talley’s Folly,” among them — is precise and unwavering as Phileas Fogg, “a man of heart when he has the time.”

He is a cool customer at the center of the story, a character who keeps his head amid a swirl of comers and goers. Guncler provides the show’s rudder, and is spot-on.

Patricia E. Doherty’s costumes are asked to do the lion’s share of scene-setting here — and they don’t disappoint. From Fogg’s well-appointed frock coat and ascot to a Speedy’s hilarious parrot-topped peacoat and Aouda’s gowns — and various headscarves, hats and costumes of all stripes — Doherty’s work whisks us along from London to Calcutta, from Yokohama to San Francisco.

Chris Rummel’s soundscape includes lovely underscoring near the end of the first act, as Fogg and company board a vessel about to hit some rough weather.

Who needs 80 days? Caruso and his exceptional team take us around the world in 2 hours and five minutes, including an intermission.

Barring an extension, Penguin’s “Around the World in 80 Days” will be gone in 20 days, closing Sept. 5.

Mr. Fogg would quickly calculate that with 15 shows remaining at the 108-seat Bobbi Lewis Theater, only 1,620 additional tickets can be sold. And some of those are already taken.

Don’t miss the boat, the train or the elephant named Kiouni.

“Thomas Caruso does a fine job of bringing this intricate and fast-paced story to life.”

‘Around the World in 80 Days’ in Stony Point 🔗
Cynthia O. ToppsTimes Herald Record

STONY POINT — “Around the World in 80 Days” is a Jules Verne classic that has been served as the basis for an animated series, five different films, two television travel series, a television miniseries, three stage musicals and two plays. Verne wrote his own stage play, and the other is by Mark Brown.

Penguin Rep is presenting Brown’s lighthearted, comedic version as its latest offering. The production sports beautiful, colorful and eye-catching costumes by Patricia Doherty and ingenious, multipractical set design by Joseph Egan, and director Thomas Caruso does a fine job of bringing this intricate and fast-paced story to life.

His cast of five (four men and one woman) portray more than 30 characters of every nationality that they encounter on their journey. Sam Guncler as Phileas Fogg is perfection as the stiff-upper-lipped Englishman who wagers all his wealth on making it around the world in 80 days by rail and steamboat. His devotion to the task, his sense of fair play and justice are executed skillfully.

Hillel Meltzer as Fogg’s servant Passepartout truly embodies the acrobat, which was touted in his submitted credentials for employment. His ability to twist himself around and about is amazing to watch. His facial expressions are equally facile.