BENNINGTON, VT. -- Oldcastle Theatre Company is ensconced in its new Main Street home, and now beginning the transition in earnest from summer stock to year-round fare. This gives Williamstown and other Berkshires audience, which comprise more than a third of Oldcastle’s gate, greater arts choices in the winter, spring and fall.
It also makes the venerable Equity company one of the dwindling number of professional regional theatres in the country taking such a risk, ostensibly to pave the way for a sounder future. If its recent opening of Mark Brown’s "Around the World in 80 Days," is any indication, fans from all corners of the three-state area are in for year-round Thespian treats.
The play is a clever adaptation of Jules Verne’s literary classic, and is directed by Peterson. The story is set in 1872, begins and ends in London, but takes place in various corners of the globe, to include Suez, Bombay, Calcutta, Yokohama, and at points in the American west.
It finds gentlemen Phineas Fogg (Gil Brady) accepting a considerable wager from associates at the Reform Club (Patrick Ellison Shea, Richard Howe) to travel the globe in 80 days. He is joined by his recently hired French valet Passpartout (Peter Langstaff). While in India, Fogg saved the life of Aouda (Sarah Corey), all while being chased down by Detective Fix (Howe) who believes Fogg is a robbery suspect to be brought to justice back in England.
The genius of this presentation of the story is how Brown condensed the legion of Verne’s characters into just five players. Peterson’s troupe then took the next vital step to deliver the goods and then some. All took turns narrating, a slick device that helped move the action.
Oldcastle veteran Shea, who has appeared in 10 of its shows, put on a clinic that would make anyone associated with the craft marvel at his versatility. He played no less than 15 parts, with notable standouts being his turn as Judge Obadiah, Col. Proctor, Mudge, and Capt. Speedy. Shea reminded us why we love live theatre in the first place - there are no breaks or multiple takes in such frenzies: actors must have the fire in the belly to switch back and forth in short order and still be believable.
Howe’s Detective Fix drew comic fire and managed to remain a sadly sack of sorts while still pulling both sympathy and a plethora of laughs. He also played eight other parts. While pushing Fix to the limit of comic relief, Howe also excelled as Old Parsi the elephant guide and brought down the house in a brief flash as Reverend Wilson’s female servant.
Brady, who has become something of an Oldcastle favorite in recent seasons, offered us grace, dignity and proper Brit stiffness to Fogg’s almost excessive dose of honor and integrity. Still, he was a perfect complement to the magnetic Corey, who played three roles herself but whose Aouda in particular oozed passion and gratitude. When dressed in traditional Indian silks, she was not only credible, but a beauty to behold.
Finally, in all fairness, this show belongs to Langstaff’s Passpartout. If you want to see a seasoned stage actor get every ounce of talent from playing a very funny character with multiple show stealing scenes, then this alone is worth the price of admission. Nothing more can be added to what Langstaff accomplished. Nothing.
Howe also chipped in with a versatile multifunctional and metaphorical set with scenic art by Wm. John Auperlee - both allowed the actors the ability to make quick changes in persona and remind us of the journey. These shifts were further aided by Liz Stott’s excellent period costumes and versatile accoutrements that could turn a housemaid into a priest in less than 10 seconds.
Lights by David Groupe were up to their usual excellence, and sound by Mike Cutler was timely and on the mark. Finally, in a show with so many moving parts, it would be remiss not to allow stage manager (and experienced actor) Sophia Garder a very deep bow of her own.
One of the play’s finest effects is physical. These actors, using very few props, made you hear and feel when they were on a train, on board a ship in a storm, or racing along on the back of an elephant. So if an early spring cornucopia of the dramatic senses is what you are after, then the trip to Bennington from Williamstown and the Berkshires will be well worth it - and take far less than 80 days.
If you go:
What: Around the World in 80 Days
Where: Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St., Bennington
When: Through April 7
Tickets: 802-447-0564, oldcastletheatre.org
Telly Halkias is the Stage Names drama critic and an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail: email@example.com.