Around the World in 80 Days | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Around the World in 80 Days

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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).

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