20,000 Leagues Under The Seas Play Review – Dive, Dive, Dive!

Joe Dempsey, Glenn Dale Obrero, Edwin Lee Gibson, Micah Figueroa, Photo: Liz Lauren
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Get ready for the biggest adventure and most visually stunning theatrical performance to hit the Chicago stage this year! When a terrifying sea monster is spotted off the coast, renowned scientist Professor Aronnax and fellow explorers set out to investigate. They soon find themselves kidnapped and held under the command, and spell, of the mysterious Captain Nemo. As they circle the globe aboard the most advanced submarine the world has never seen, they confront giant squids, bizarre sea creatures, and the monsters that lurk below…and within.


Artistic Associate Walter Briggs, Lanise Antoine Shelley, and Artistic Associate Kasey Foster


Adapted from Jules Verne’s epic adventure exploring the murky perils of the seas, Ensemble Member David Kersnar invites you to board the Nautilus and “Dive! Dive! Dive!” into  Lookingglass’ World Premiere. Adapted by David Kersnar and Althos Low, from the books by Jules Verne, and directed by Ensemble Member David Kersnar. 20,000 Leagues concludes the Lookingglass Theater’s 30th Anniversary season and runs until August 19, 2018. The Lookingglass Theatre Company, is located inside Chicago’s historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson.


Ensemble Member Kareem Bandealy


Ensemble Member Kareem Bandealy


“This story is the same hardcore thriller it’s been for over a century: Victorian submarines, sea battles, hairbreadth escapes. On a deeper level, the story really has grown into a near-parable in many ways more resonant to our world than to the world for which it was originally intended,” comments writer/director David Kersnar. “At Lookingglass, we often start with a physical or visual hunch to support the mission or ‘big idea’ of the adaption of extant text. For 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, all images are created and performed by human hand through intercultural puppetry, as well as chain and rope rigging. Lookingglass has a storied relationship with the Actors Gymnasium up in Evanston, and we tested many physical elements up at the gym and staged physical sequences in the show. In addition, the design team was selected to turn this adventure up to full blast, so stay tuned as we lift the largest and heaviest object ever in the 30-year history of Lookingglass!”


Ensemble Member Thomas J. Cox


20,000 Leagues was the first production I have ever seen onstage at the Lookingglass. Founded in 1988 by graduates of Northwestern University, it is currently known internationally.  I have wanted to see a show here for years. 20,000 Leagues finally gave me this opportunity and I was not disappointed! The production was the perfect combination of action, suspense, special effects, acting, stage/set design, and Victorian costumes, all rolled into a very entertaining two and a half hours.

I was drawn into the production and felt like I was on a sea ship and then the Nautlilus submarine with Captain Nemo himself. You would look through windows and see creatures, divers in old-fashioned heavy suits and air tubes. The actors themselves also went “swimming” underwater as they were hoisted up from the stage and suspended in air with ropes, which included an interesting choreography of acrobatics to mimic the suspension of time when being underwater. Stagehands dressed in black would walk around the stage, and the audience with sea creature puppets suspended on sticks, thus giving the illusion of underwater life. At times, my friend and I almost forgot that we were in a small theater on Michigan Avenue, and believed we were 20,000 leagues under the seas with Captain Nemo!


Ensemble Member Micah Figueroa


20,000 Leagues features a talented cast with veteran performers such as Kareem Bandealy (Captain Nemo) and Thomas J. Cox (Gideon Spillet/J.B. Hobson/Guard/Boatswain) with Artistic Associates Walter Briggs (Ned Land) and Kasey Foster (Professor Morgan Aronnax).  Also includes are; Joe Dempsey (Pencroff/Farragut), Micah Figueroa (Harbert/Ensign Smith/Nicholas), Edwin Lee Gibson (Cyrus Smith/Constabe Weaver/Engineer), Glenn-Dale Obrero (Kin-Fo/Mr. Drax/First Mate) and Lanise Antoine Shelley (Brigette Conseil).


Ensemble Member Thomas J. Cox


Notewothy was that the main character of Professor Morgan Aronnax (Kasey Foster), who is a male in Verne’s orignal novel, is female in the new script, including her close friend and confidant, Lanise Antoine Shelley (Brigette Conseil). Foster was, in my opnion, the best part of the play, providing her character and 20,000 Leagues with strength, courage and confidence. I also highly enjoyed Bandealy’s performance as Captain Nemo, the headstrong captain obsessed with revenge. Considering the relatively small cast, several members acted in more than one role, which is talent and creativity in itself, impressive when one person can  take on  many different roles or personalities.


Artistic Associate Walter Briggs, Artistic Associate Kasey Foster and Lanise Antoine Shelley. Photo by Philip R. Smith


During the production, each character goes through stages of life, beliefs, personality, and questions where they are going next or what will happen next. As I watched the characters grow as people, it made me think of my own life, as well as the daily struggles and hardships humanity faces as a whole today. It also made me question a human being’s actions and they choose their paths in life.




lenn Dale, Obrero Water Briggs, Joe Dempsey, and Edwin Lee Gibson


If you are looking for entertainment, out of this world theatricals, and an amazing escape from reality, stop by the Lookinglass Theater, and snag some tickets to 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas before it leaves!




Photos: Liz Lauren (*unless otherwise noted)



Dates: June 6 – August 26, 2018

Times:  Tuesdays:          7:30 p.m. (June 12 & 26; July 3, 17 & 31; August 14 only)

             Wednesdays:      7:30 p.m. (except July 4)

             Thursdays:         2:00 p.m. (June 7 & 21; July 5, 12 & 26; August 9 only); 7:30 p.m

Fridays:             7:30 p.m.

             Saturdays:          2:00 p.m.

             Sundays:             2:00 p.m.  and 7:30 p.m.

Accessible Performances:  Audio Described/Touch Tour performance, Thursday, June 28, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. (Touch Tour begins at 6 p.m.)

Location:  Lookingglass Theatre Company, located inside Chicago’s historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson.

Prices: Previews are $35 – $55 Regular Run is $45 – $80

Student tickets are available the day of the show for $20 with a valid student ID. Based on availability.

Groups of 8 or more patrons save up to 20%. Call 773-477-9257 X 125 or email gr********@lo*****************.org for details.


Box Office: Buy online at lookingglasstheatre.org or phone at (312) 337-0665 lookingglasstheatre website

The Lookingglass box office is located at Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave.



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