From left, Marcel Jeannin, Suzy Jane Hunt, Brendan McMahon and Serafín Falcón star in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” Rick Miller Publicity photo
JUNE 07, 2017 4:53 PM
Jules Verne’s ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues’ comes to the Asolo stage
BY MARTY CLEAR
Audiences hear an unusual request at the beginning of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”
They’re asked to please make sure to leave their cell phones on.
Theater audiences are used to the opposite plea. But this adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel is an unusual piece of theater.
“We just thought, ‘We have this marvelous technology that people love, so why don’t we make use of it?’ ” said Rick Miller, the director and co-creator of the play.
The thing with the cell phones is meant to make this “Twenty Thousand Leagues” a more immersive experience. The audience is asked to download an app (available for iPhone and Android by searching for “20000” or “Kidoons”) just before the show. Audience members are supposed to keep their phones on, but to put them away until they get an alert near the end of act one.
They can stay involved with the show during intermission through the app.
It’s not just a gimmick. Jules Verne’s stories often integrated the latest technology of the era, so the new adaptation adds today’s technology to Verne’s for a 21st-century audience.
A lot of people consider “Twenty Thousand Leagues” a story for kids, but Miller said he and co-creator Craig Francis didn’t set out to create a play for young audiences.
“I never create anything that’s directly aimed at kids,” Miller said. “The plays are based on what I would like to see when I go to the theater.”
The play premiered in Toronto and later played in Manhattan, which is where Asolo Rep officials saw it.
IT’S A PLAY YOU CAN BRING YOUR PARENTS TO, OR EVEN YOUR GRANDPARENTS, AND YOU’LL ALL ENJOY IT IN DIFFERENT WAYS.
“We were actually surprised at how popular it was with families, because the story goes to some pretty dark places,” Miller said. “It’s a play you can bring your parents to, or even your grandparents, and you’ll all enjoy it in different ways.”
This adaptation starts in the present day, with a lead character playing with action figures. The audience watches on a screen. Then the action figures became real live actors, and that lead character is transported back to the era of the original book. There he encounters Captain Nemo, a disturbed genius who has created a solitary Utopia.
It’s a fun and fast-paced show, just under two hours with intermission, but it has some serious underpinnings, including statements about the human need for interpersonal connections (and the destructive effect technology can have on those connections) and observations about the importance of water and the marine environment.
“Water’s important to all of us, the rise in sea levels and the plastic in the Pacific Ocean,” Miller said “But it’s especially important to Florida. So we’re really excited to give Florida audiences a chance to see this.”
Details: June 9-July 1, Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $8-$48. 941-351-8000, asolorep.org.
Marty Clear: 941-708-7919, @martinclear