Bristol Riverside Theater is celebrating its 20th season

with a spectacular production of Mark Brown’s adaptation

of Jules Verne’s "Around the World in 80 Days." The

anniversary festivities include an opening night gala

(held Thursday, September 28), and a variety of other

special events – from a theater luncheon at the nearby

historic King George II Inn (held Saturday, September 30)

to a pre-performance "Sail Around the Delaware in 80

Minutes" riverboat ride on the Riverboat Queen of Bucks

County on Saturday, October 7; a "Friday Festival" on

October 6 with crudites, desserts, and a discussion about

the play by the playwright; and "Wine Down Wednesday" on

October 11, with wine and desserts in the lobby before the

show. But the best tribute to the theater is the

production itself.

Verne’s narrative includes adventures on trains and ships

and elephants, but Bristol Riverside has opted for a

bare-bones production that relies on the abilities of five

actors, who work with a few chairs and a table, placed in

front of a backdrop showing a picture of the globe, and

observing all this from the proscenium arch is a portrait

of Queen Victoria. Standard theatrical lighting and some

sound effects are in evidence, and the actors often keep

the audience posted by holding up signs, but there’s no

music, no projections, none of today’s fashionable (and

often distracting) technical resources. What this

production relies on is the theatrical ability, both

verbal and physical, of the actors, and the audience is

thereby drawn much more deeply into the happenings on

stage.

For those who may have missed the story, let me just say

that the action, which takes place in the 1870s, revolves

around a bet, made by Phileas Fogg (Ezra Barnes) at his

London club, that he could travel around the world in 80

days or less.

Nothing goes smoothly on the trip. Among other problems

Fogg has a habit of losing time by acting on principle –

stopping, for example, to rescue a young Indian woman,

Aoudo (Alana Gerlach), from a sacrificial death – so to

keep to the schedule Fogg, his servant Passepartout (Evan

Zes), and Aoudo have some unusual rides. These include

using an ice boat to cross the American prairie; backing

up the train when they come to an unfinished bridge so

they can pick up speed and jump the gulch; and buying the

boat they are traveling on when the fuel runs out so they

can use the furniture, and eventually the deck, to keep

the boilers going full speed. We understand much of what

is going on from the dialogue but the real treat lies in

watching the actors’ body language to see what is

happening.

Barnes, who plays Fogg, is the only actor who does not

have multiple roles. The other four portray a total of 32

characters. Zes, as Passepartout, plays his servant role

with a heady dose of acrobatics and a stage French accent,

which includes the occasional mispronunciation that drives

Detective Fix (Tim Moyer) to distraction. Fix is the not

overly bright detective who accompanies Fogg for most of

his voyage under the mistaken assumption that Fogg is a

bank robber. Gerlach, the only woman in the cast, moves

from being a manservant, a newspaperman, and a priest to

finally settling in as Aoudo.

Moyer is on stage most often as Detective Fix but he is

responsible for seven other roles as well. Kenneth Boys is

the busiest actor; he manages to portray a total of 18

characters.

All the actors are adept at the role and scene changes,

and the audience gets a sense that they are enjoying the

game of rapidly switching place and person. Director

Edward Keith Baker, the company’s artistic director, is to

be thanked for choosing this way of telling the story and

for doing it with such panache. The costumes present a

challenge too. The actors need to be able to make

lightning-fast costume or accessory changes, and Millie

Hiibel has designed the costumes so they can do that. The

bare-bones, and effective, set is designed by A. Nelson

Ruger IV, the lighting by Ryan J. O’Gara. The sound design

was by Daniel A. Little. Most noticeable among Little’s

achievements is a tornado, which enables Fogg to move

faster and make up for time lost to good deeds.

Bristol Riverside Theater has chosen a delightful show to

celebrate an important milestone. Those not familiar with

the theater may not be aware of its close proximity to

Princeton, on the banks of the Delaware River, nor with

the fact that it is housed in a former movie theater. They

will have a treat savoring the building’s configuration

(the stage is large, the auditorium is not), and its

location, with a terrace overlooking the Delaware River

and the streets of historic Bristol.

"Around the World in 80 Days," through Sunday, October 15,

Bristol Riverside Theater, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol,

PA. 215-785-0100.

Facebook Comments