At first glance, a table doesn’t look like an elephant. But with a hefty dollop of theatrical imagination, it becomes the pachyderm that Phileas Fogg and Passepartout ride through India in “Around the World in 80 Days,” an adaptation that will soon hit the Bangor Opera House stage to cap off its 39th season.
“That’s what’s so special about this play, is that it’s taking this epic adventure and turning it into something incredibly theatrical,” said director Kate Warner, an Atlanta-based director and colleague of PTC director Bari Newport. “The only way you can do that on a stage is to use theater magic, and let your imagination run wild.”
The play is based on the classic 1878 novel by Jules Verne, in which eccentric English explorer Fogg and his French valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the globe on a £20,000 bet, which works out to about $2 million in 2013 American currency. Along the way, they encounter countless wild adventures and crazy characters — so many that to recreate them all on the Opera House stage would be near-impossible.
This adaptation, a regional theater favorite written by Mark Brown, takes all that and reduces it to some cleverly-staged set pieces and props, and to just five actors. Atlanta-based actor Robin Bloodworth plays Fogg, and local favorite Dominick Varney plays Passepartout, but the other three actors, all locals, each play multiple roles. Jenny Hart is the beautiful Indian Princess Aouda and three others, Bradley LaBree is the dastardly, moustache-twiddling Detective Fix and eight others, and Arthur Morison takes on the heroic task of playing 16 roles in total.
“It’s a hoot,” said Warner, who is director of the improv-based Dad’s Garage Theatre Company in Atlanta, and was formerly director of the New Repertory Theatre in Boston. “It’s something everyone, of all ages, can enjoy.”
Not only do the actors take on multiple costume changes and accents, they’re also the ones moving set pieces and props onstage.
“We’re letting the audience see us make the magic,” said Warner. “You’ll see how we make things on stage, like a typhoon. Four chairs become a train. They’ll be in on the joke.”
One of Warner’s specialties as a director is taking on productions that require a lot of technical wizardry and carefully coordinated backstage movement. When she and Newport talked last year about her coming to Maine to direct a show, she knew that her particular love of bigger-than-life, fast-paced theater meant she’d be a perfect match for “80 Days.”
“Plus, I wanted to come to Maine when it’s warm out,” said Warner. “It’s absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t ask for a better reason to come.”
The set, designed by longtime PTC designer Erik Diaz, is decked out with an eye-catching 20-foot map of the world and two levels on which the action can take place. It’s also worth noting that Bloodworth, the Actor’s Equity performer who plays Fogg, is on his own travel challenge — he’s trying to perform in a theatre in all 50 states.
“When I got my equity card and moved to New York years ago, I started auditioning for theaters all over,” said Bloodworth. “I realized I’d already been to 16 states, so I thought, ‘You know, I could do this.’ I’m up to 39 now, but I think the last 11 are going to be the toughest. It’s places like North and South Dakota, and Hawaii, and everybody wants to go there.”
Performing in “Around the World in 80 Days” is oddly appropriate for an actor with a goal like Bloodworth’s; just as Fogg accepts the challenge of circumnavigating the globe in 80 days or less, so Bloodworth hopes to travel the nation before, as he says, “I’m too old to do it.”
“There are probably more practical career goals, but for me, it’s meant I’ve gotten to travel in a way I’d never normally be able to do,” he said. “It’s really been an adventure.”
“Around the World in 80 Days” opens in previews at the Bangor Opera House on Wednesday, May 15, and premieres on Friday, May 17; performances run Wednesdays through Sundays through June 2. Individual ticket prices range from $22-$36. Group, senior and student discounts are available. Purchase tickets, subscriptions and gift certificates online at penobscottheatre.org, or through the box office at 942-3333. Penobscot Theatre will give one complimentary youth ticket for those ages 18 and under, for every $36 ticket purchased either in person or by phone.