BENNINGTON, Vt. -- Oldcastle Theatre Company may have presented its first production in its new downtown Bennington home in December with a new musical, "Northern Boulevard" (which is returning in July) but Oldcastle's first full season at 331 Main St. is under way in earnest with "Around the World in 80 Days," Mark Brown's inventive stage adaptation of Jules Verne's 1873 novel.

First things first. Renovations of Oldcastle's new home are not yet complete but it is pretty clear that OTC's involuntary move from Bennington Center for the Arts on western edge of town to the center of downtown Bennington is a true blessing.

There is ample parking all around -- on the street and in two nearby municipal lots, one of them about one block behind the theater; the other across the street behind People's Bank and Community College of Vermont. South Street Cafe, a welcoming coffee house, is around the corner on Route 7 (South Street) and there are any number of dining choices within easy distance.

The bright, spacious lobby is nearly done; the entrance will have been rebuilt and ready to go by the next show, "A Strange Disappearance of Bees," in mid-May.

The just-under-140-seat arrangement for this production -- the configuration will change from one show to the next -- surrounds the stage on three sides. There does not appear to be a bad seat in the house. Even the last, and highest, row shares in the warm, inviting intimacy the fixed proscenium configuration at BCA never had.


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Unfortunately, matters on the stage itself are not as accommodating. Despite the rich opportunities Brown's adaptation provides for its cast of five and the director, director Eric Peterson's production too often feels static, forced, repetitious. And while the performances by the uniformly experienced members of Peterson's cast are delivered with determination and energy, there is an overall lack of crispness, precision and focus, especially Richard Howe's atypically distracted -- at times, fumbling -- performance as Detective Fix, whose relentless Javert-like pursuit of the stoic, reserved Phileas Fogg (a somewhat bland Gil Brady) makes him an unexpected participant in Fogg's amazing race against time to go around the world in 80 days and, in the process, win a £20,000 wager with three members of his gentleman's club in London.

Patrick Shea is resourceful in his multiple roles. Sarah Corey fares extremely well throughout, especially as Auoda, who becomes a member of Fogg's travel party after his manservant for all seasons, Passepartout (a sublimely droll Peter Langstaff), rescues her from certain death in India.

For all the obstacles -- natural and man-created -- Jules Verne throws in Fogg's path, that high sense of peril, of risk, of uncertainty of outcome, rarely, if ever, pierces the routine, by-the numbers atmosphere that prevails throughout the performance.

Despite the intimacy in Oldcastle's new theatrical playground, this production only infrequently reaches out and invites us to become party to Fogg's adventures.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS by Mark Brown. Based on the novel by Jules Verne. Directed by Eric Peterson; set by Richard Howe; costume design, Liz Stott; lighting design, David Groupe. Through April 7. Eves.: Thu.-Sat. 9. Mats.: Sat., Sun. 2. Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St., Bennington, Vt. Tickets: $37; students $10. (802) 447-0564; www.oldcastletheatre.org. 2 hours 9 minutes Actor 1: Gauthier/Ralph, et.al

Patrick Shea

Actor 2: Detective Fix, et.al

Richard Howe

Actor 3: Passepartout/John Sullivan

Peter Langstaff

Actor 4: Auoda, et. al

Sarah Corey

Actor 5: Fogg Ian Stuart