Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas at Lookingglass Theatre

Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas at Lookingglass Theatre
Lanise Antoine Shelley, Artistic Associate Kasey Foster. Photo by Liz Lauren

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” — Daniel  Burnham

Lookingglass Theatre Company, known for making the impossible possible, has once again tackled what some might think the impossible by adapting Jules Verne’s science fiction thriller, 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, for the stage inside their historic Water Tower Water Works Theatre located at 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson. 

The world premiere of 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, adapted by David Kersnar and Althos Low, opened Sunday, June 5 and runs through August 19, 2018.

The ages old story of which most of us are familiar begins when a terrifying sea monster is spotted off the coast, renowned scientist Professor Aronnax and fellow explorers set out to investigate. They soon find themselves kidnapped and held under the command, and spell, of the mysterious Captain Nemo. As they circle the globe aboard the most advanced submarine the world has never seen, they confront giant squids, bizarre sea creatures, and the monsters that lurk below…and within.

Artistic Associate Walter Briggs-Artistic-Associate-Kasey-Foster-Lanise-Antoine-Shelley.Photo: Liz-Lauren.

Artistic Associate Walter Briggs-Artistic-Associate-Kasey-Foster-Lanise-Antoine-Shelley.Photo: Liz-Lauren.

In many ways, the story is more relevant today than it was in the Victorian era. Co-adapter, Steve Pickering (Althos Low) explains, “There’s an enormous amount of scholarship now about Jules Verne, and he’s benefited the past decade from retooled–much more faithful–translations,. in many ways, he’s an author being rediscovered.”

An interesting change to the cast that originally was all male, is the gender switch of the story’s protagonist, Aronnax and Consell who are now female. The seamless change added another dimension to the tale.

“This story is the same hardcore thriller it’s been for over a century: Victorian submarines, sea battles, hairbreadth escapes. On a deeper level, the story really has grown into a near-parable in many ways more resonant to our world than to the world for which it was originally intended,” comments writer/director David Kersnar. “At Lookingglass, we often start with a physical or visual hunch to support the mission or ‘big idea’ of the adaption of extant text. For 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, all images are created and performed by human hand through intercultural puppetry, as well as chain and rope rigging. Lookingglass has a storied relationship with the Actors Gymnasium up in Evanston, and we tested many physical elements up at the gym and staged physical sequences in the show. In addition, the design team was selected to turn this adventure up to full blast, so stay tuned as we lift the largest and heaviest object ever in the 30-year history of Lookingglass!”

Things went swimmingly at Saturday night’s press opening until a point in the 2nd act when, due to a safety issue (the rigging became twisted),  the actors had to carry on with the scene without the Pearl Diver sequence–a beautiful moment in the production–that other audiences will see. 

The title, 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, refers to the distance that Aronnax, Nemo, and company travel under the sea–not the depth–with a league works out to approximately 3 miles–thus 3 x 20 equaling 60,000 miles.

20,000 Leagues Under the Seas features Ensemble Members Kareem Bandealy (Captain Nemo) and Thomas J. Cox (Gideon Spillet/J.B. Hobson/Guard/Boatswain) with Artistic Associates Walter Briggs (Ned Land) and Kasey Foster (Professor Morgan Aronnax). The cast also includes Joe Dempsey (Pencroff/Farragut), Micah Figueroa (Harbert/Ensign Smith/Nicholas), Edwin Lee Gibson (Cyrus Smith/Constabe Weaver/Engineer), Glenn-Dale Obrero (Kin-Fo/Mr. Drax/First Mate) and Lanise Antoine Shelley (Brigette Conseil).

The creative team includes Todd Rosenthal (scenic), Sully Ratke (costumes), Artistic Associate Christine A. Binder (lighting), Artistic Associate Rick Sims (sound and composition), Artistic Associate Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi (circus choreography), Blair Thomas, Tom Lee, and Chris Wooten (puppet designers), Isaac Schoepp (rigging), Amanda Herrmann (props), Kathy Logelin (dialect), Max Fabian (fight choreography) and Mary Hungerford (stage manager).

What: “20,000 Leagues Under the Seas”

Rating: ★★★

When: through August 19

Where:  Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan

Tickets: $45-$80

Running time:  2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

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