Imagine a play in which five people divvy up 42 characters and only one of the actors plays the same role throughout. That's what's going on in Mark Brown's adaptation of Jules Verne's classic book Around the World in 80 Days, about to start at the Alley Theatre.
"There are quick changes and transitions between characters that are faster than I’ve ever done in a play,” says actor Jay Sullivan (The Foreigner, All My Sons, The Elephant Man), who plays 19 distinct characters in this retelling of the story of Phileas Fogg, who wagers that he can circumnavigate the world as Victorians knew it in just 80 days.
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The challenge for the actors, of course, is how to move at manic pace but somehow make it all comprehensible. Only Todd Waite as Phileas Fogg gets to play one role; everyone else at least doubles, Sullivan says.
“There’s five of us telling this enormous story with as much efficiency, few people and as little waste as possible.”
Visiting actor/director Mark Shanahan (The Hollow) has the helm. “He has the right spirit for this play,” Sullivan says. “It’s old school playing like backyard imagination — turning the swing set into the pirate ship kind of playing. There's a joyfulness. It's not juvenile but unself-consciously fun. Our motto for the production is that we're going to magically do the impossible.”
Performances of Around the World in 80 Days are scheduled for March 4 through April 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays. 615 Texas. For information, visit alleytheatre.org or call 713-220-5700. $26-$72.