Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Dear Ruth, Kiss Me, Kate, First Date, White Guy on the Bus, Harlowe

Jessica Kupillas
Photo by Josiah Duka
The sense of imagination that Jules Verne brought almost 150 years ago to his popular 1870 novel "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" connected with readers who were swept up in the adventure of the story. It also proved inspiring for scientists and intellects who considered the scientific inventions in the book, including the elaborate use of a submarine which only had very limited capabilities, to be ahead of their time. TheaterWorks' Youth Works presents a new adaptation of the classic novel in a production that is as imaginative and full of wonder as Verne's original story.

The plot, as in Verne's book, centers on Captain Nemo, who commands the Nautilus, a submarine which has been destroying ships in the sea as revenge against countries who are proponents of war. Since submarines at that time were mainly small vessels with minimal abilities, many believed the mostly underwater destruction was being done by a mysterious sea creature and not a man-made device. A small group of individuals is hired to help find the beast, but instead they find themselves onboard the Nautilus after it attacks and sinks the ship they were on. At first, this trio of adventure seekers are amazed that this is a ship and not a sea monster and are intrigued by Nemo, who lets them stay on the ship. But are they guests, or prisoners?

Kyle Olson has successfully crafted a condensed version of Verne's original novel. The one act, 90-minute play touches upon the major plot points in the book, though with a couple of major changes. The first is that the main character of Captain Nemo is played by a woman, as is most of the crew of the Nautilus. This modern update adds a spirited jolt of female empowerment to the piece. Also, Olson includes the antagonist Farragut, a character from the 1954 Disney film adaptation, but also makes that individual a woman who has past ties to Nemo, providing more intrigue and a more assured ending. However, there is still a bit of unclarity in a few details of the play's plot and the final confrontation between Nemo and Farragut could be more enriched as it seems somewhat underwritten.

Though there may be a few very small shortcomings in the script, the creative aspects for this production are some of the best I've ever seen in a Valley youth production. Michael Armstrong's exquisite set design gives the appearance of a fully fleshed out interior of a submarine with dozens of blinking lights, levers, and gauges along with a periscope, portholes and second story walkway. The simple, but inventive, use of videos screens for two exterior portholes provides richly detailed video elements that give the sense of the ship diving under water or ascending to the water's surface as well glimpses of occasional sea life just outside the ship. Combined with the stellar lighting design by Nathaniel White and Josh Hontz's sound design, which includes realistic sound effects and a musical underscore, this is a realistic and immersive theatrical experience like none I can ever remember. Kathi Miller and Brenda Moulder's detailed costumes and Brenda Goodenberger's hair and make-up designs round out the exceptional creative elements. At one point in the plot, when the Nautilus has descended to a very low depth in the ocean where the water is ice cold, I could swear the air conditioning in the theatre was turned to a high blast to add another sensory element to the experience.

Director Jason Washburn has assembled a talented group of young actors to play these memorable characters. Jessica Kupillas is sensational as Nemo. She has a perfectly assured, matter of fact line delivery as this obsessed yet highly intellectual woman who is also powerful and a realist. From her clear portrayal we also get a good understanding that Nemo is highly inquisitive and interested in finding out more about those around her, while being very evasive about her own past.

Hannah Fenzl, Justin Moore and AJ Palubinskas portray the trio of individuals who find themselves on the Nautilus. Fenzl does well as the female scientist Camille Aronnax, another gender switch from the book, and Moore is appropriately cocky as the hot-headed Ned. Palubinskas adds some fun moments of humor as the talkative poet Cosmo, while Faith Blinn is strong as the vengeful Farragut.

With a good cast and an abundance of detailed creative elements that are a feast for the senses, TheaterWorks' Youth Works production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a memorable, rich and imaginative theatrical experience.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, through October 7, 2018, at TheaterWorks, 8355 West Peoria Avenue, Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at TheaterWorks.orgor by calling 623 815-7930.

Written by Kyle Olson, based on the novel by Jules Verne
Directed by Jason Washburn
Scenic Designer: Michael Armstrong
Lighting Designer: Nathaniel White
Costume Designer: Kathi Miller and Brenda Moulder
Sound Designer: Josh Hontz
Hair and Make-Up Designer: Brenda Goodenberger
Props Designer: Tim Landis Stage Manager: Chloe Blinn

Nemo: Jessica Kupillas
Farragut: Faith Blinn
Ned: Justin Moore
Cosmo: AJ Palubinskas
Camille Aronnax: Hannah Fenzl
Armstrong: Trevor Benoit
Drake: Cash Haines
Manu: Kenzie Brown
Pencroft: Jazmin Gonzalez
Spivet: Hannah Kieffer
Wright: Abby Palubinskas
Ensign: Corine Seaver
Josh Pike
Gia DeYoung
Isaac Jessop
Gwendolyn Craw
Kiana Hindi

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