Wednesday January 23 4:43 pm

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

"20,000 Leagues under the Seas" has Plenty of Swashbuckling Derring-Do

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As I’ve said many times, I love going to Lookingglass, the most flexible theater space in the city! You never know what to expect; as everything from stage location to seating changes for every production. I can remember sitting in baseball bleachers for one play, and rough, wooden Chautauqua pews for another.
For “20,000 Leagues under the Seas”, which has scenes above and below the water, Scenic Designer Todd Rosenthal was faced with a real challenge. He built an old-fashioned ship’s superstructure with a female figurehead at one end of the space (the stage in a more traditional theater) with a long flat thrust which can be a ship’s deck or an island somewhere. A good-sized section of that thrust lifts, via chains at the corners, becoming a handy map table – or the hatch of a submarine.

Lookingglass often incorporates aerials/acrobatics and puppetry into its productions. In “20,000 Leagues”, you’ll see an entirely different world under the sea. Since water slows motion, swimming – or just a plunge into the ocean – is simulated with aerial acrobatics done in slo-mo. Fish, sharks, and other denizens of the deep, are puppets.

Five men who have escaped from a Confederate prison are adrift in a small boat when they wash up on something hard and metallic. When they spot an open hatch, they realize it’s some kind of ship, so they climb down – into an alternate reality where they meet Captain Nemo (Kareem Bandealy) and his strange crew. When Nemo says his ship is the Nautilus, they tell Nemo about a best-selling book about the adventures of a French scientist aboard a ship called Nautilus. They tell Nemo about the story, then he tells his side of the same story…

Several ships have been lost at sea after spotting a mysterious monster which some have speculated might be a giant narwhal (a whale with a long, tusk-like tooth). The Navy is putting a fleet together to find a destroy the monster. Although Admiral Farragut (Joe Dempsey) objects, French scientist, Professor Morgan Aronnax (Kasey Foster) and her assistant, Brigette Conseil (Lanise Antoine Shelley), and Ned Land (Walter Briggs), a Canadian harpoonist, join the expedition.

Eventually, they find the monster and Farragut orders an attack which backfires when the monster strikes back. Professor Arronax, Brigitte and Ned are thrown overboard and end up on the Nautilus traveling the seven seas with Captain Nemo.

I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure, but there some things which could have been better:
• Safety is always first, so when the rigging got tangled, the whole pearl diver sequence was left out of the opening night performance. Dialogue without action just didn’t make sense, so I was glad when I got to see a clip of this amazing scene later.
• My friend Helen and I both thought that Act II got bogged down in Nemo’s memories and really dragged.
• If you’re sitting along the side in the balcony, as I was, the top rail will block your view. I was never able to just sit back and watch. If I wanted to see what was happening, I had to lean forward and look between the rails.

Kudos to the excellent ensemble who all played multiple parts: Micah Figueroa, Edwin Lee Gibson, Glenn-Dale Obrero.

“20,000 Leagues Under the Seas” runs through August 19th at Lookingglass Theatre, located inside Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson, Chicago. Discounted parking is now available at 3 locations: John Hancock Center Self Park; Olympia Centre Self Park; and Water Tower Place. Be sure to get your parking permit validated before you leave the theater.

Running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes, with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays (June 12 & 26; July 3, 17 & 31; August 14); Wednesdays at 7:30 pm except July 4th; Thursdays at 2:00 pm (June 7 & 21; July 5, 12 & 26; August 9) and 7:30 pm; Fridays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:30 pm; and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:30 pm.

Audio Described/Touch Tour performance, Thursday, June 28th at 7:30 pm. Open Captioned performance, Thursday, July 19th at 7:30 pm.

Tickets range from $45-$80. FYI (312) 337-0665 or