Thursday March 21, 2013

BENNINGTON -- The foretold "grander grand opening" of Oldcastle Theatre Company's new location on Main Street is upon us. But as Oldcastle founding director Eric Peterson put it, there is yet one more grand opening to come, a "grandest grand opening."

To celebrate the "grander grand opening," Oldcastle Theatre Company is staging a production of the Jules Verne sci-fi classic, "Around the World in 80 Days," adapted by author Mark Brown.

"It's a story people love and keep coming back to," Peterson said.

The show opens tomorrow night, March 22 and runs through April 7 at the Oldcastle Theatre on Main Street in Bennington. Performances are on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and matinees are at 2 p.m. on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

For the uninitiated, "Around the World in 80 Days," is the 1873 novel by French author Jules Verne, one of the fathers of science fiction. The story follows English adventurer Phileas Fogg as he attempts to circumnavigate the world in 80 days for a 20,000 pound (roughly, $2 million today) bet. Fogg sets off on his journey and proceeds to meet a whole range of characters from all over the world.

The production is paired with a talk an signing at the Oldcastle Theatre by author Matthew Goodman on Saturday, March 23, at 4 p.m. in honor of International Women's Day, which happened earlier this month. Goodman is the author of the new book "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World." The story follows the real life race between two women who set out to beat the fictional 80 day journey by Fogg less than two decades after "Around the World in 80 Days" release. The book, published by Random House, has been met with critical acclaim.

Why ‘Around the World in 80 Days?'

"Well, over 100 years later and it's still a very popular show," Peterson said. He described the play as an adventure story that isn't afraid to still have some fun. "They're really great characters, (and there are) wonderful subplots."

But, popularity aside, Peterson has his own reasons for liking the play.

"It's been really interesting to me," he said.

Peterson described his fascination with the idea of speed and how the pursuit of it entrances humans. For thousands of years the fastest a person could travel was by horse, and there weren't any innovations to speed those up. But then came the invention of the steam engine.

"It changed the world as we knew it," he said. "Speed has become of the essence."

The cast

This iteration of the play, written over a decade ago, features 39 characters traditionally played by a small cast. The Oldcastle production features a cast of just five and features the return of Gil Brady, who most recently performed in the premiere production of the original musical "Northern Boulevard," in December 2012. Brady will play the lead role of Phileas Fogg.

Associate artistic director of Oldcastle Theatre Company Richard Howe plays Detective Fix as well as seven other roles. Howe is also responsible for the set design of this production.

Oldcastle veteran Peter Langstaff will also perform several roles including the Fogg's occasionally bumbling valet Jean Passepartout, whose name means "skeleton key" in French.

In the role of 16 different characters is Patrick Ellison Shea, who has performed with Oldcastle Theatre Company, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Kennedy Center, Ford's Theatre, and The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.

The Indian princess Aouda will be played by Oldcastle first-timer Sarah Corey. Who has worked in New York with the N.Y. Fringe Festival, Prospect Theatre Company, and NYMF (Pershing Center) and New Dramatists. Her regional theatre credits include The Public Theatre, New Repertory Theatre, Worcester Foothills Theatre, Lyric Stage of Boston and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

Because of the large number of characters versus the small cast, many character changes are done quickly and sometimes even in the middle of a scene.

"(Howe) has a moment where he literally turns around and becomes a different character," Peterson said.

And while Peterson cautions that dramatic character changes mid-show and even mid-scene can risk losing the audience in lesser productions, he assures that the professionalism and talent of this cast makes character transitions smooth and believable.

Changes to the theatre

Those familiar with the theatre's layout during "Northern Boulevard" are in for a surprise when they enter the stark white lobby. Walls have been taken out and the lobby has been expanded. Those with disabilities will have access to the show, but a wheelchair lift will be installed following the end of "Around the World."

The actual stage area itself has changed as well, from the L-shaped seating to more of a semi-circle around the circular stage.

Single adult tickets are $37 and $125 flexpasses for four performances are available on the website or by phone. Student tickets are $10. For more information, visit www.oldcastletheatre.org or call 802-447-0564.