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Review: TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA at Asolo Repertory Theatre

The staged version of TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA is a playful theatrical adaptation of Jules Verne's 1954 classic movie by the same title. Jules Verne is regarded as a visionary, a prophetic writer who was in tune not only with his world but also with the world of the future. Our world today. For those of you who remember the undersea sci-fi adventures of Captain Nemo, you may come to the theater wondering, how are they going to pull this off without resembling a humble school production.

This fresh new perspective of re-imagining classic works in which the theater is producing more and more, i.e. FINDING NEVERLAND vs. PETER PAN, WICKED vs. THE WIZARD of OZ, offers some new perspectives for the cast, crew and theatre-goers alike. So set the movie you remember to rest onshore for now and put on your diving gear. Take the plunge. This is going to be a creatively, interesting voyage.

Produced by Jeff Lord, creators Craig Francis and Rick Miller and Canada's Kidoons and WYRD Productions, bring this version up-to-date not only via theatrics, (light design, puppetry, and projections), but by modernizing Jules' character into our world of technology, eco-concerns, and social media. It sounds weird. But it works.

In this imaginative adaptation we meet present-day Jules, enthusiastically played by Brendan McMahon. We are absorbed into his story that comes to life as he plays out his days as a graduate student stuck in a "maelstrom of cynicism and isolation about the state of the oceans today". Jules, finding it difficult to complete his essay on "Downward Spiral: Inevitable Collapse of Ocean Ecosystems", creates a mini-theater in which he acts out his journey. Being a savvy guy, he incorporates present day technology to enhance his presentation. Jules imparts the role of his hero to his instructor, Professor Aronnax (Suzy Jane Hunt). A gruff harpoon master, Ned Land, (Marcel Jeannin) and Captain Nemo (Serafin Falcom) join the adventure. Like Nemo, Jules is distraught about the rupture of our eco-system topside and escapes to an underwater utopia he creates for himself.

There are moments of very clever staging that surround the audience with the feeling of being submerged and often isolated from the rest of humanity. The waves lapping against the boat are so real you will be looking for watermarks on the stage. As Jules walks us through the journey of being tossed overboard with his friends, scrims provide a place for lighting to reflect prison bars and movement is given to the actors as they rise and fall with the ocean waves that surround them. When they suddenly find their footing on Nemo's Nautilus and open the breech door to climb down, the door lifts above them, giving the feel of their descent into the vessel. The hollow sounds of the sub and the various rooms Nemo takes them to visit draw you in to their world. Actors juxtaposing positions and props lend a unique breadth and depth to several scenes. Of course not everyone gets along, as there always has to be some sort of discord. How that all plays out, you will have to see for yourself. And you should.

Mr. McMahon is charming and accomplished as Jules and has his hands full, not just with lines and blocking, but with various voices, puppets and squids. Suzy Jane Hunt as Professor Aronnax is delightfully adventurous yet pragmatic. Serafin Falcon portrays the mysterious anti-hero Nemo with defiant lunacy. Marcel Jeannin as Ned Land does a fine job giving his character that smoking gun, waiting to erupt, edge.

Kudos to Scenic, Prop and Costume Design by Yannik Larivee, Lighting Design by Itai Erdal, Projection Design by Deco Dawson, Puppet Design by Shawn Kettner & Marcus Jamin, and Multi Media Project Manager Irinna Litvinenko. So much can go wrong onstage using the various mediums incorporated in this production. You were all up to the task at hand.

So much can also go wrong with our eco-system. This statement from the show is worth contemplating, "We bought the plastic, we discarded it and it made its way into the sea. The plastic never fully decomposes, but is broKen Down into smaller toxic particles, spiraling into an ever-growing reflection of our civilization: you can't see the poison, but it's everywhere".

Spoiler alert! There are flying fish that come out to swim above the audience!

TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA runs through July 1, 2017 at the world class Asolo Repertory Theatre. For more information about this production and their upcoming season, visit

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