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Asolo Repertory Theatre’s latest foray into theater appropriate for children is a thrilling ride taking the audience “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” For Sarasota, a town punctuated by many beautiful bodies of water and home to a world-class sanctuary for sea life, the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, this play is the perfect entrée to the Jules Verne classic – fun and lighthearted but with an important message.
Just as founding father Ben Franklin, lovingly depicted in “1776,” the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s first show of the American Character series, famously declared “It’s a republic if you can keep it,” Jules Verne’s prescient novel implores us to keep protecting our precious yet vulnerable oceans. And, in 2017, the fate of our political system and our global ecosystems are irrevocably intertwined.
By inviting young people to the show and using action figures and projections to enhance the storytelling, the play reminds us of our most important natural wonder – the children who will inherit the earth. Rick Miller Co-creator/Director stated, “As a father of two children, I’m intensely driven to create entertainment that enlightens, educates, and empowers young people.”
Captain Nemo (Seráfín Falcón in a pitch perfect performance) captures the merry band of adventurers, Jules (Brendan McMahon), Professor Aronnax (Suzy Jane Hunt), and Ned Land (Marcel Jeannin) on his submarine, the Nautilus. Falcón is a charming, yet ominous anti-hero driven by an irrepressible urge to hide from his sorrows under the sea. McMahon is witty and lets us in on the fun as he discovers a world he’s only known in textbooks, and Hunt is a regal and admirable Aronnax, unfailing in her devotion to her work and her protégé Jules and even Land, the noble fishermen they discover in their travels.
Despite his totalitarian tendancies, Nemo, who fitfully declares, “I am the law, I am justice, I am the oppressed,” is also sympathetic, particularly in his final soliloquy of the depths of his pain on earth. So in many ways plastic, so omnipresent in our kitchens and in the ocean, is the villain in this modern take on a classic.
There are certainly adult themes, including unlawful detention and death on the high seas; however, older children, particularly those familiar with Jules Verne’s writing will love this energetic and ingenuous production. Additionally, the play pays equal tribute to our common human desire for exploration, the importance of research in the service of progress, and the need to respect and treasure the earth.
Family day is Saturday and the show runs through July 1st. Visit http://asolorep.org/ for details.