Jeff Smith 11:59 p.m., Feb. 8
Around the World in 80 Days at Lamb's Players
Brian Rickel & Jon Lorenz/photo by JT MacMillan
A "give it another week" opening night. Laura Eason adapted Jules Verne's adventure novel (1873) for the stage. Lamb's had most of the logistics pretty much in place. But many scenes felt more like a run-through than a fully realized event.
Eason's minimalist script calls for speed, the instant creation of new locales, and what should look like effortless theatricality. In the Lamb's opening, the engine moved, but the gears needed oiling.
You could set your watch by Phileas Fogg. The wealthy Brit demands precision in every second of his life. He has feelings, he says, "when I have the time."
In 1872, the world had shrunk. The Suez Canal (1869), America's Transcontinental Railroad (1869), and the Great Indian Peninsula Railroad made it possible to circle the globe ten times faster than in 1772.
Given his strict habits, "the most exact and settled gentleman in the U.K." does a surprising thing: Fogg bets 20,000 pounds he can go around the world in only 80 days, in winter.
Even though high tech aircraft can do it today in a jiff, the challenge back then's a grabber: trains, steamships, even going through customs, everything must be on schedule. A delay could be deadly.
What the Lamb's production needed much more of was this sense of imminent failure. Until the very end the staging moved forward as if nothing could stop it (probably due to the demands of crisp pacing). Or, when something did, it was just a minor nuisance. The end was never in doubt.
Lance Arthur Smith makes Fogg a deft cross between Sean Connery and a metronome. It's an admirably assured, take-charge performance. Smith conveys such unflappable certainty, however, that he diffuses potentially dangerous situations.
Jon Lorenz plays Inspector Fix, the man determined to sabotage the trip, in a comedic vein. He slinks and skulks, he pokes his head through curtains and does everything short of twirling a villainous mustache. And he's always funny. But the cartooning poses no palpable threat.
Though his French accent came and went, Brian Barbarin's Passepartout always engaged. Kaja Amado Dunn's Mrs. Aouda stood out, in part, because hers was the only multi-dimensional effort, her eyes as eloquent as her words.
John Rosen (a hoot in several cameos) led the supporting cast, all of whom playing several roles and wearing Jeanne Reith's costumes, a world tour in themselves, from England to Bombay and Calcutta, to Hong Kong, to long-coated American train robbers.
Michael McKeon's serviceable set included a map of the world above, where a red pin-light showed the current location, and a bare stage below. Except for an elephant made from patterned cotton, the show's best images came in Act Two (almost as if it had saved up enough time to develop some, and include a rousing song as well). A "sledge" swinging in the show and a ship in a raging storm were remarkable.
The production encourages the audience to use its imagination and help create the scenery. What it needs, particularly in Act One, is more depth of emotional scenery.
Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado, playing through November 18.
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