The shark-infested waters off the coast of Sam Longley's hometown of Perth, Australia, are recognized as the most dangerous in the world.
Although that risk didn't scare away Longley's marine biology career aspirations, asthma did. Instead he became an actor, and for the last year has taken the plunge as the title character of The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, an Australian stage import surfacing Friday at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
Alvin is a lonely man who lives in a post-apocalyptic waterworld where the oceans have risen, wiping out billions of people. Survivors have taken refuge on farms built on skyscrapers and the highest mountain peaks. After his wife dies, he volunteers on a perilous mission into the deep, dark depths in search of a new home for humanity on the bottom of the sea. After watching his wife's soul sink under the waves, Alvin also holds out hope he might also meet up with her soul once more.
Tim Watts, also of Perth, conceived Alvin Sputnik, named after the deep-sea research vessel of the 1960s and the first satellite launched into space.
"Tim liked the idea that under the ocean is a little like space, and has weightlessness and wonders, dark and cold," says Longley, who arrived in frosty Winnipeg Sunday after leaving home, where it was a sweltering 43 C. "He put Alvin and Sputnik together to symbolize that sense of adventure.
"Tim is an avid diver and was used to being alone in the ocean with nothing but blue all around you. You feel very insignificant. I think it is part of the analogy about the guy who has lost his wife. He feels very much alone and at sea."
Watts has toured his multimedia puppet show all over the world, including to the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival, where Alvin Sputnik was named outstanding solo show. Everyone loves its tiny hero, who looks like a buoy with a flashlight in it. His body is Longley's white-gloved right hand.
"It has similarities to the Pixar movie Up, in that its a story about love and loss," he says. "Kids don't make that connection as much as adults."
What is unusual about Alvin Sputnik is that it was technically written for adults but has found an audience among young people. The MTYP presentation is directed at children 10 and older.
"The kids love to see an underwater adventurer explore and interact with a whale and be chased by jellyfish," says Longley, who has performed Alvin Sputnik about 60 times in Japan and the United States. "It's a great show for kids, just not little kids. Adults connect with the emotional side of loss."
The 42-year-old father of two is happy to see that the ocean deep is stealing a little attention from deep space, which is the more frequent setting for popular movies and books. His boyhood hero was Jacques Cousteau, the underwater scientist and adventurer.
"My greatest memory as a kid was when I was out on a boat and dolphins were swimming by," says Longley, who is headed for Salt Lake City and a three-week tour of the United States. "My dad grabbed us and jumped into the water. We could see 20 dolphins on the surface but once we went below there were about 150 swimming around us.
"I think outer space has been glorified and underwater has been mostly ignored. I would go down in a deep-water submarine in a second. I would do that over going into outer space."