For those of us trapped in the QC during COVID, unable to travel or take a vacation, a trip around the globe sounds utterly magical.
The jewel-box theater Mockingbird on Main can give you that (without leaving Davenport) in its latest new production, “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Based on the 1872 travel adventure novel by French author Jules Verne (1828-1905), this two-person madcap comedic version by Tristan Tapscott tells the story of the unflappable duo Phileas Fogg and Jean Passepartout and their crazy trip across our big blue planet.
The new adaptation opens Friday, featuring real-life power couple Sydney Dexter (as Phileas Fogg, et al) and Alex Richardson (as Passepartout, et al), directed by Tristan Tapscott and Douglas Kutzli and designed by Savannah Bay Strandin.
“I have always loved this novel and always thought it would be fun to see how inventive we could get with madcap comedic abridged version of it,” Tapscott (co-founder and co-owner of the Mockingbird) said recently.
“The show is all fun and laughter provides the perfect getaway from the tumultuous world,” Strandin said.
In the classic story, Phileas Fogg, a London gentleman of meticulous and unchanging habits, hires as his valet Jean Passepartout, a Frenchman who has had a variety of jobs, including circus performer, but now seeks a tranquil life. After reading in The Daily Telegraph that a new railroad in India has made it theoretically possible to travel around the world in 80 days, Fogg bets his fellow members at the Reform Club that he will make that journey in 80 days or less.
An 1874 stage version, written by Verne and French playwright Adolphe d’Ennery, was also wildly successful and ran for several decades, according to Britannica.com. The novel inspired numerous attempts to travel around the world in 80 days or less, most notably by American journalist Nellie Bly in 1889–90. The best-known film version, “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), starred David Niven, Cantinflas, and Shirley MacLaine and won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The stage version has been done at Richmond Hill Players, Geneseo.
Mining the tale for fun
Tapscott — an actor/writer/director currently in Circa ’21’s “The Play That Goes Wrong” with Strandin — said he’d been toying with adapting the story for a long time.
“It was tech week of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ that I kind of dusted it back off again,” he said this week. “Originally it was about a 4-to-5 character show and I thought it’d be entertaining if it was only two and to see what kind of mayhem that would cause. Because the novel is so rich with very colorful characters, it moves so fast that I wanted to see what could be done, what kind of comedic mileage we could get out of having just two people do all of these things.”
Tapscott’s longtime friends Richardson (a prolific playwright) and Dexter (a Circa Bootlegger) are great together on stage, he said.
“Their chemistry, as you would expect, is on fire,” Tapscott said. “He’s so funny. And I’ve loved her work over the years, especially when I saw her in ‘Disenchanted’. They’re such talented character actors themselves.”
The two embody a variety of different characters simply by adjusting their voice, their posture, and minor costume changes, he said.
“It’s really entertaining and it lends itself to being a madcap farce — that’s how Jules Verne kind of wrote it to begin with,” Tapscott said. “There’s a lot of mistaken identity and things that happen along the way, like Abbott and Costello. We just took those elements and enhanced it. Now it’s just two people trying to keep up with it.”
“It’s just silly fun and it’s silly fun for a very perilous time,” he said of today’s instability and worries, locally and globally. “There’s a lot of problems in the world right now, so come and laugh with us and forget about all the chaos outside.”
While not written for a female, Dexter still plays Mr. Phileas Fogg, as well as other characters.
“They’re great together and, you know, they’re a couple in real life. So that helps — especially during COVID times,” Tapscott said. ” They’re really funny together and Alex hasn’t been on stage in years and he decided maybe it was time to get back on and he took a hell of a project to get back with. ‘Cause it’s difficult. It’s funny.”
Another play that goes wrong
“Around the World” is very meta “in the fact that they run into disasters on their travels and then the actors trying to perform the show also run into disasters as well,” Tapscott said. “There’s a lot of layers of comedy going on. And, there’s so many things that like happen that I’m like, I don’t want to spoil that though. It’s just a fun little show.”
“We’re not reinventing anything; it’s fun,” he said. “It’s not quite ‘The Play That Goes Wrong,’ but it’s not quite the play that goes right either.”
The Mockingbird’s postponed production of “Driving Miss Daisy” (originally scheduled for February) will likely happen in early summer, Tapscott said.
“Around the World in 80 Days” will play the Mockingbird stage (320 N. Main St., Davenport) March 4, 5, 11 and 12 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and all tickets are $15, available at TheMockingbirdOnMain.com.