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“Around the World in 80 Days” at ACTC

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

ACTC’s patrons will circle the globe in ’80 Days’

By Eric Marchese

If you’ve seen “The Amazing Race” but are unfamiliar with “Around the World in Eighty Days,” you should know that author Jules Verne came up with the concept of a race to circle the globe some 130 years before the reality TV series.

And Verne invested his 1872 novel with so much action, adventure, humor and romance that many decades later, it wound up spawning countless movie (both big screen and made-for-TV) and TV (both series and mini-series) versions, most of which use the digits “80” in place of the word “Eighty.”

Of course, the famed tale has also been adapted to the stage. The first of these was by Verne himself, who worked with Adolphe d’Ennery to create an 1874 production in Paris. That version was later translated into English and brought to the U.S. – but it never caught on.

A musical version, “80 Days,” that originated in San Diego in summer and fall of 1988 captured some notice too.

By contrast, Mark Brown’s inventive 2001 adaptation is the best-known live staging of “80 Days.” It has caught on like wildfire on a worldwide basis, having been performed in New York, England, Canada, South Africa and Bangladesh.

From Left: Robert Ball, Zachary Chance, Ethan Riley, Gabrielle Incremona, Megan Fox Aguirre

Brown’s retelling has most likely flourished by virtue of the flexibility of its script, which allows directors and creative teams to determine how they wish to stage it. Brown’s own description pegs the number of actors at a minimum of five and a max of 39, which gives anyone producing the show a tremendous amount of leeway.

That elbow room is one of the key elements that attracted Susan K. Berkompas to the play in 2016, when she directed “80 Days” at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. So when it came time to choose a second show for the 2023 summer season of American Coast Theater Company (ACTC), the lively, fast-moving play was at the top of her list.

Berkompas, ACTC’s founding artistic producing director, had already scheduled “Forever Plaid” as this season’s opener, but she needed a show that would be a good complement to “Plaid” in that it could use the same lighting grid and a set that could easily be adapted from one show to the other.

Berkompas also had only five days to change “Plaid” over to whatever the second play would be. She immediately thought of Brown’s version of Verne’s adventure, which she and her son, Connor Berkompas, had co-directed at V.U. four years ago.

Connor Berkompas has followed in his mother’s footsteps as a theater producer and director but has specialized in what mom Susan calls “physical theater,” which emphasizes combining the various disciplines of physical movement, dance and singing to tell stories in a hyper-theatrical way.

Berkompas notes that son Connor’s aesthetic “is a bit different than mine, and so we complement each other’s work. He has a well-tapped breadth of knowledge in movement and physical-based devises and works, and I love classic plays that give room for comedy and physical theater.”

From left: Micah Munck, Robert Ball, Zachary Chance, Gabrielle Incremona, Ethan Riley, Megan Fox Aguirre

Berkompas said she and son Connor “have worked on a few shows together in the past and found that we work very well together.” Between that and their comfort level with “Around the World in 80 Days,” she secured the performance rights and scheduled it as the follow-up to this year’s “Plaid.”

Berkompas also invited back the cast members of the Vanguard University production to reprise their roles.

Vanguard alum Zach Guevin plays Phileas Fogg, the intrepid English gentleman who places a hefty wager on himself that he can pull off a feat that has never been accomplished – to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.

The bets are taken and adventurer Fogg prepares for his incredible journey with his faithful French valet, Passepartout (played by Ethan Riley), who will accompany him. After journeying from London to Suez to India, the duo meet the beautiful maiden Aouda (played by Gabrielle Incremona Boyle), rescuing her from the clutches of evil. They then invite her to join them in their amazing worldwide race.

Robert Ball portrays the play’s fourth lead character, Detective Fix, who dogs Fogg every kilometer of the way, single-mindedly pursuing him in the belief that he’s a criminal bent on escaping justice.

The ACTC production’s four leads are joined by the four-person ensemble of Tiffer Aguirre, Megan Fox Aguirre, Pierre Ekladios and Micah Munck, each of whom functions as a narrator and commentator, relating the various plot twists of each scene to the audience.

More importantly, each member of this focal quartet essays the play’s dozens of supporting characters – everything from stuffy, proper, ultra-wealthy Brits who are peers of the realm to policemen, train conductors, priests, judges, engineers, clerks and all the colorful figures Fogg and Passepartout encounter in their mad intercontinental dash, using railroad cars, elephants, hot-air balloons and ships to cover as much ground (and water) as quickly as possible.

When asked how she arrived at a cast size of eight, Berkompas said she liked the idea of balancing four leads with four ensemble members.

She called that cast size “a good Off-Broadway kind of number, and it makes this a good Off-Broadway piece. The theatricality and challenge of using just four ensemble members and parsing out the roles is something I love. The show is really fun, funny, and very theatrical.”

From left: Micah Munck, Robert Ball, Ethan Riley, Zachary Chance, Gabrielle Incremona, Megan Fox Aguirre

All eight actors are Vanguard University alumni, and Guevin, Ball and Ethan Riley are reprising their roles from 2016. As Berkompas notes, “they all loved it and wanted to be part of ACTC’s version.” The cast, she points out, includes two married couples – Ethan Riley and Gabrielle Incremona Boyle as well as Megan Fox Aguirre and Tiffer Aguirre.

Brown’s script is a comedic whirlwind that traverses seven continents and uses action, excitement, slapstick and theatrical ingenuity to depict stampeding elephants, raging typhoons, runaway trains and more. Fogg not only risks his life every step of the way, but unlike Indiana Jones, he also stands to lose his entire fortune should he fail to win the wager.

Berkompas said that despite the show’s generally comedic tone, she wants audiences to understand that “this isn’t a play about comic ‘bits,’ but an adventure that keeps a ticking time clock which drives the stakes. It is also a love story.

“We want to push the envelope of all these elements working together – in other words, do what we can create with the human body and action that serves the comedy, the characters and the story at the same time.”

For this production’s scenic design, Paul Eggington redressed his “Forever Plaid” set design. Garrett Spady is lighting designer and Lia Hansen is the costume designer, and ACTC intern and apprentice Natalia Elizalde is working as stage manager.

The creative team also includes nine students doing ACTC internships and apprenticeships: Jenna Bolar, Madison Combe, Audrey Gall, Rezia Landers, Jenna Lockwood, Jaden Massaro, Gaby Paul, Yasmine Reid and Jordan Ward.

Eric Marchese has written about numerous subjects over more than 38 years as a freelance and staff journalist for a wide variety of publications, but is best known as a critic, feature writer and news reporter covering theater and the arts throughout Orange County.

‘Around the World in 80 Days’

Lyceum Theatre

Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, CA

June 23-July 9, 2023

From left: Gabrielle Incremona, Zachary Chance, Ethan Riley, Robert Ball

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