For the newest generation of theatergoers, Imagination Stage’s Early Childhood production of Aquarium is a treasure. Wide-eyed and brimming with excitement, the young audience members are lost in the world of the play from the first light shift. Jack (Jack Novack) and his friend Calypso (Natasha Gallop) lead this interactive island adventure. The audience experiences the local flora and fauna through visual effects and interactive props. The journey includes a trip undersea, a dig in the garden, and a romp with a herd of sheep.
The collaboration of design team and actors makes this show a visual win. An umbrella that creates its own rain, a treasure chest full of bubbles, a bicycle wheel covered in tiny circular mirrors that reflect light to create a sky full of stars, and a blue parachute that becomes an ocean are only a few of the many things that give Aquarium its essence of surreal beauty.
As Jack, Novack’s keen sense of comic timing keeps the kids delightedly cackling for the duration of the show. He interacts directly with the audience and makes each child feel like they are personally in on the jokes. Physical comedy chops and juggling skills add to his overall charm.
Gallop’s calm energy as Calypso is a nice balance to the more energetic Jack. As a magician’s assistant of sorts, she takes on the creation of many of the visual effects. She accompanies these moments with singing, and her voice has a sweet lyrical quality that wraps you up like a lullaby.
The children are asked to vocally interact with the performers, and some of the most hilarious moments for the adult audience members are their responses. The children are given opportunities to join the cast on stage, and in a few scenes, adult audience members are assigned characters and costumes and participate in the fun.
Now in its fourth run, Aquarium is a collaboration between Imagination Stage and Italy’s Lyngo Theatre. The two companies and director Nick Vargas know their audience well, and go above and beyond to meet the needs of their 1 to 5-year-old target age group. For the youngest audience members, the main intrigue comes in the form of visual, audio, and tactile stimulation. The soothing music that underscores the majority of the show keeps the energy relaxed, and there is little risk of a young child feeling overwhelmed.
There are additional learning opportunities for the older children. They are challenged to use good theater etiquette and follow simple instructions. This is not too tall of an order – there are a variety of props to interact with, and regular forays onto the stage. There is little opportunity for anyone to get the wiggles. Keeping up with the witty banter at the beginning of the show is also a fun mental challenge for young minds.
Aquarium offers a variety of morning show times that make it easy to fit in around most nap schedules. Everyone deserves a break from the strains of city living, so treat yourself and your favorite youngster to a little island magic!
Running Time: 45 minutes, with no intermission.
Aquarium plays through December 4, 2016, at Imagination Stage at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Studio Theatre – 4908 Auburn Avenue, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 280-1660, or purchase them online.