‘Around the World’ journeys backward, and not in a good way

SFGate | 12/5/2017 | By Lily Janiak
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IMAGE 1 OF 5 World travel: Phileas Fogg (Jason Kuykendall), Aouda (Ajna Jai).

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TheatreWorks - World - Days - Holiday - Fare

TheatreWorks’ “Around the World in 80 Days” could have been such perfect holiday fare. Its action is zany, its aesthetics whimsically theatrical, its myriad characters fruitful showcases for some of Bay Area theater’s foremost clowns.

Yet there remains a niggling problem with the show, which is only its central conceit, its raison d’etre. The taciturn but eccentric Phileas Fogg (Jason Kuykendall), a rich white English guy, hopscotches across the globe on a wager, plying his country’s colonialism at every stop. Natives reluctant to drop everything and ferry him along to his next destination? Just wow them with wads of English pounds over and over again! And for director Robert Kelley, how to cast the nationalities of 40-odd characters, when the script calls for just five actors? It’s fine; just have your cast play members of historically oppressed races that aren’t their own. It’s a small price to pay for theatrical whimsy.

Show - Instance - Imperialism - Love - Story

The show’s worst instance of imperialism, however, concerns its love story. When Aouda (Ajna Jai), an Indian woman, is about to die by sati — i.e., be thrown on her dead husband’s funeral pyre — Fogg decides to have his servant Passepartout (Tristan Cunningham) rescue her. Call it the 1872 equivalent of a privileged Western kid’s “voluntourism” to a developing country. Most other women in her society might still be oppressed, but Phileas became the white savior for the one woman with whom he happened to cross paths. You guys, he saved India! He’s so virtuous!

Knocked out upon her rescue, Aouda, coming to, gets to have a whole moment of concern about who these strangers are and why they’re whisking her away...
(Excerpt) Read more at: SFGate
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