First-class travel

Around the World in 80 Days

Jon Tracy and Carolyn Howarth go a long way for laughs in Around the World in 80 Days<i>.</i>

Jon Tracy and Carolyn Howarth go a long way for laughs in Around the World in 80 Days.

Rated 5.0

With Steve Fossett’s recent 67-hour flight around the globe, a trip around the world in 80 days seems quaint. But in 1873, when Jules Verne wrote his classic novel Around the World in 80 Days, advances in transportation were just beginning to make the world a smaller place.

With a bet on the table, Verne’s Phileas Fogg sets out to prove he can make the trip in the given record time, using all available forms of transportation. And playwright Mark Brown uses all forms of entertainment to make his adaptation of 80 Days one of the most innovative comedies around.

Last year, the B Street Theatre’s production of Brown’s play turned out to be one of its all-time best, in terms of both critical acclaim and audience attendance. Foothill Theatre Company’s production of 80 Days is just as laudable a show. It’s wonderfully acted, creatively staged and as amusing as you can get.

Brown’s script is a gift to the talented theater troupe that is able to run with it. The dialogue is fast and fun, the actors have colorful roles and multiple personalities, and the staging is inventive and clever. Director Philip Charles Sneed rises to the occasion and delivers a memorable comedy for the swan song of his 11-year term as artistic director of Foothill Theatre Company.

This is an ensemble piece, with talented actors delivering enjoyable performances. The spotlight stealer is Jon Tracy, who shamelessly uses facial contortions and gymnastics to create an endearing Passepartout. Scott Gilbert, who will succeed Sneed as artistic director, plays straight man Fogg. The three remaining actors—Gary Wright, Carolyn Howarth and Karyn Casl—scurry about in a dizzy array of characters.

The staging is ingenious, from the old-world map to the bundle of trunks that turn into a large elephant. Kudos to Gilbert for his additional job as scenic designer and to costumer Clare Henkel for the most handsome costumes.

It must have been a bit awkward during rehearsals, since Sneed directed Gilbert, who is set to fill Sneed’s shoes. But none of that was evident on Saturday night, when Gilbert graciously gave respects to Sneed and his wife, costumer Henkel, before the performance began. Under Sneed’s watch, the Foothill Theatre Company has secured a stellar reputation as a first-class playhouse well worth the trip to Nevada City. We can only hope the tradition continues under the new management.