THEATER REVIEW: Asolo’s ’20,000′ presents an old adventure in a new light

Saturday, June 10, 2017

When the show begins at 7 p.m., you’re asked to leave your cell phone on and the play starts with an actor taking a selfi e with the audience, you know from the get-go that “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” is not going to be typical Sarasota theater fare. The last of the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s 2016-2017 season lineup may be based on the classic science fi ction novel by French writer Jules Verne that was published in 1870, but its delivery and message are entirely 2017.

This multi-media stage adaptation by Rick Miller and Craig Francis (Miller also directs) updates Verne’s venerable adventure story about a crazed captain aboard a giant submarine. It keeps some of the novel’s important themes while adding a modern twist by touching on serious issues like the dangers of ocean pollution and human disconnection. But there’s nothing heavy-handed in the telling, with an astonishing array of video projections and special effects and a steady stream of rock ’em, sock ’em action that makes it all feel like a graphic novel come to life.

Modern-day doctoral student Jules (Brendan McMahon), who studies ocean pollution and loves Verne’s novel, is in his seventh agonizing year of trying to complete his dissertation, “Downward Spiral: Inevitable Collapse of Ocean Ecosystems.” For diversion, he turns to playing with action fi gures on a child-size puppet stage – the scene, including his magnifi ed hands, is projected on a large screen behind him – and imagining traveling back in time to investigate an enormous aquatic creature with his academic advisor (Suzy Jane Hunt) as his distaff counterpart, Professor Aronnax.

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