Review: A Rollicking Trek ‘Around the World in 80 Days’

Phileas Fogg, the imperturbable hero of “Around the World in 80 Days,” has returned to New York, having taken up residence at the New Victory Theater. Laura Eason, a playwright who usually traffics in more adult fare (“Sex with Strangers,” “House of Cards”) has adapted Jules Verne’s novel into a fleet and often rollicking trek for the squirmier end of the elementary school crowd and their guardians. It travels light.

Never journeyed with Fogg? Allow me. He is a London bachelor of independent means so regular in his habits that he fires a manservant for serving him a cup of tea at the wrong temperature. (In the novel: Shaving water. Same diff.)

One day, at his club, Fogg (Andrew Pollard) wagers 20,000 pounds that a man can now make it around the world in 80 days and sets off that same night, with his new valet Passepartout (Michael Hugo), a former tightrope walker, in baffled tow.

Traveling by train, boat and sledge, rescuing a plucky Indian widow (Kirsten Foster) along the way, he treats time zones like his own personal hopscotch court. There are no TSA agents to delay him, but he is waylaid by the bumbling Inspector Fix (Dennis Herdman), a Scotland Yard officer who believes, wrongly, that Fogg has knocked over a bank.

A greatest hits compilation of the British Empire (Ms. Eason occasionally scolds its carefree colonialism), the book isn’t actually much of a travelogue. Fogg doesn’t go in for sightseeing and neither especially does Verne. But how exhilarating it must have been, in an era before discount cruises and air travel, when most readers would count themselves lucky to journey a town or two away. How thrilling is it now? Still pretty thrilling.

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Ingeniously directed by Theresa Heskins and stylishly designed by Lis Evans (the set is a citadel of suitcases), the production borrows techniques from story theater and devised theater to create country after country with just music, lights and a few hand props. At its best, which is pretty often, it has a childlike sensibility, creating a delightful elephant out of a cloak, a credible shipboard scene with just a couple of tilting chairs and a life preserver.

The four other actors whiz in and out of character so fast jet lag feels like a legitimate risk. Not all of the secondary figures are fully realized — and the lone American character subscribes to the yeehaw agenda — but it’s still a neat trick, as is the deft stage magic.

Ms. Eason’s script, precise and purposeful, doesn’t talk down to children. If it avoids any icky kissing, it includes a scene set in an opium den. (Parents will enjoy explaining the line about “a curious local tobacco.”) The show sometimes takes the adventure plot so seriously that it forgets to allow for silliness, though the giddy moments, most of them courtesy of Mr. Hugo’s darling Passepartout, seemed to delight the children most.

Well, that and the elephant. Sure, a kid in front of me kept turning on his phone, but the show makes a brilliant case for imaginative play, for how you can create a world to circumnavigate with just a few blankets and pillows and a dress-up bin. (O.K., a light plot and a decent sound system help a lot. But still.)

Then again, your small New York sophisticate may not find Fogg’s feat so impressive. At the New Victory, he circles the globe in just two hours, less time than it takes most of us grown-ups to pick a happy hour destination via group text. But has he ever tried to make it home on the M.T.A. late nights and weekends? Now there’s an adventure.

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