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298 Kinderkamack Road, Oradell, NJ 07649


Bergen County Players, inc.


«  »April 2024


Midbergen "Around the World in 80 Days" Review

Read full article at http://www.midbergen.com/index.php?module=News&func=display&sid=167

There is a phrase, "the magic of the stage", referring to how a play can transport you to a different place and time, as if by magic. There's another phrase, "stage magic", the art of prestidigitation, sleight of hand, making one believe that one has seen something truly wonderful by using only mundane methods. And we have the Bergen County Players production of Around the World in 80 Days, which uses the latter to enhance the former into a unique and enjoyable experience. This reviewer, along with a large crowd, braved the snow and ice to be transported back to the 19th century for an evening of pure enjoyment.

Cast of Around the World in 80 Days
Photo by Michael Smith

The play, using only 5 main actors and a Greek Chorus of two "Tour Guides" (enthusiastically portrayed by Allen Pines and Christian Spinella), manages in a space of just over 2 hours to cover every major plot point - and a few minor ones - of Jules Verne's novel, Around the World in 80 Days. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Phileas Fogg, a stiff, proper Victorian English gentleman who lives precisely and by the clock, bets 20,000 pounds (a huge sum in those days) that he can circle the globe in 80 days. He travels along with his new servant, the resourceful, loyal but not entirely reliable Passepartout, and Detective Fix of Scotland Yard, who is secretly chasing Fogg under the belief he is a bank robber. As Fogg braves the hazards of the late 19th century to win the bet, we are taken from London to Egypt, through India, to Hong Kong, Japan, and across the United States.

The magic is in how the cast and crew manage to turn a deceptively simple set and the 5 actors into an entire world with its diverse people. The magic starts off with a backdrop of a map of the globe, with strategically placed doors and windows, combined with ingeniously engineered props (put together by set designer Michael Smith, set decorator/prop man Jeff Pieper, and scenic artist Wayne Spector) which combine to become, among many other places, Fogg's House, a stuffy British club, the Indian jungle, various trains and ships, and even a Hong Kong opium den. The action moves along using rapid fire scene changes and dialogue, and the actors make it all seem effortless. Adding to this, there is a dizzying array of costume changes, allowing only 5 actors to play over 3 dozen parts. Costume designers and dressers Pat Bain, Marisa Dolkart, and Stephanie Ofshinsky zoom the actors through the rapid changes that multiply them into myriad of roles. And director Ray Yucis deserves much credit for keeping all the balls in the air at the same time.

The anchoring role is Philias Fogg, a straight man so straight that, in the right hands, becomes a comic role in and of itself. And "the right hands" certainly describes Jordan Zaretsky in this part. His major task is to take what are incredible and catastrophic obstacles and treat them as the commonplace; his challenge is to take what might otherwise be a one dimensional character, and bring depth to him. And Zaretsky certainly stands up to that challenge, exposing nuances of heart and warmth in what otherwise appears to be a thoroughly cold man.

The rest of the cast, without betraying any of the effort involved, play the numerous roles using not only the costumes, but the accents, facial expressions and personae required for the audience to accept them. In a knock-out performance, Darren Carfano steals the stage playing, among others, Passepartout, who is a combination of comic relief and a representative of the audience's point of view. Contrasting Fogg, who displays virtually no emotion, Passepartout is required to display enough for two people. With a lesser actor, the role can deteriorate to ridiculous slapstick, but, while Carfano goes right up to the line, he never steps over.

The actor portraying Detective Fix has to walk a line of his own, showing the character's professionalism and determination, but with just enough incompetence to be a comic foil rather than a dramatic danger. Actor Bill Cantor succeeds admirably, able to work in the slow burn into the fast play, all the while zipping to and from his other characters without the audience even noticing that Fix is missing.

The play's lone female actor, Vanessa Garrabrant, appears mainly as Aouda, a Parsi Maharani who joins the group in India. Aouda acts as the voice of reason among the seemingly insane characters around her. Yet, a subtlety is required of the role, difficult in a broad comedy, but a challenge Garrabrant steps up to and hits a home run: showing Aouda gradually and believably seeing the depths in and falling in love with Philias Fogg.

Last but certainly not least, James Lesko becomes a one man ensemble, going from one transformation to another with such skill that one forgets that it is only one actor, or even only one actor at a time, and clearly has as much fun as the audience when doing it.

And the play certainly is a lot of fun, with throwaway lines, numerous puns, and ridiculous anachronisms, all keeping the play fresh and moving, pulling the audience along with it from the  first train whistle to the final scene, and the whole world in between.

All performances of Around The World In 80 Days take place at The Little Firehouse Theatre, 298 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell, home to the Bergen County Players since 1949. Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $20 for all evening performances, $16 for Sunday matinees, and can be purchased online at www.bcplayers.org, by calling 201-261-4200, or by visiting the box office during regular box office hours. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express cards are accepted. Those interested in group sales of 20 or more tickets may call 201-261-4200, x6. As it has for the past few seasons, BCP continues to offer a "Questions & Artists" (Q&A) discussion following select performances. The Around the World in 80 Days Q&A will take place immediately following the February 21, 2014 performance. Admission is included in the cost of the ticket. Discount tickets for students age 25 and under with proper ID are available for $14 by phone or walk-up only. Parking is free at the Park Avenue municipal lot across the street, one half blocks north of the theater.

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