‘Aquarium’ immerses kids in a magical world at Imagination Stage

The show has a soothing and calming effect on its young audience, which is lovely to see.

Aquarium, which is part of Imagination Stage’s Theater for the Very Young series, is an engaging, interactive, and appropriately slow-paced show for the youngest audiences (ages 1-5). What struck me about this show is that aforementioned pacing; writers Petro Chiarenza and Patrick Lynch, with direction by Kathryn Chase Bryer, have created a pace that has a soothing, calming effect on its audience, which is lovely to see. It is the opposite of much of the overstimulating entertainment that is often aimed at children these days.

Edmée Marie Faal and John Sygar in ‘Aquarium.’ Photo by Rebecca Malachowski.

Right from the start, the performers, Edmée Marie Faal and John Sygar, involve the little theatergoers in the show and set the expectations clearly (“not everyone will get to use everything, but everyone will get to use something”). It’s just that kind of understanding of and expertise in early childhood development that really sets Imagination Stage performances and classes apart. The little ones sit right on the stage in a semi-circle, which draws them into the imaginary world as well.

John Sygar and Edmée Marie Faal in ‘Aquarium.’ Photos by Rebecca Malachowski.

The show asks the children to use their imaginations, move, giggle, and assist all along the way.  Even the grownups, called “big people,” are asked to help at crucial moments. This is not a musical per se, but two songs are involved. One of them, which is the title of the show, “Aquarium”, is a lullaby that at the performance I attended had about half the children in the audience voluntarily lying down as if ready to take a nap. These precious moments are created by Faal and Sygar, both on stage the entire 45 minutes, who connect with the children while inspiring them to imagine a world that of course doesn’t really exist.

Though the show is entitled Aquarium, it mostly takes place on a fictional, nearly deserted island. It occurred to me that perhaps the title is a bit of a misnomer. Only toward the end, in a culminating highlight, an enormous and gorgeous purple silk jellyfish undulates and dances, creating the illusion of an ocean. The props, set design (Pietro Chiarenza), and lighting (Zac Gilbert) all contribute to helping the audience feel transported. No matter the title, this part — and the show in its entirety — is a magical experience, and observing the wondrous reactions of the children is beyond satisfying for the adults in the audience.

All four of the young ones with whom I attended said they loved the show, and as we left the theater the three-year-old (a sweet-spot age for this show, in my opinion) was already asking to come back for the next one.

Running Time: 45 minutes, with no intermission.

Aquarium plays through February 12, 2023, at Imagination Stage’s Reeve Theater – 4908 Auburn Ave in Bethesda, MD. For tickets ($16.50), call the box office at (301) 280-1660, or purchase them online

Best for ages 1 to 5.

COVID Safety: Audience members (age 2 and up) are required to wear masks while in the theater. See complete Health and Safety Precautions here.

By Pietro Chiarenza and Patrick Lynch
Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
With Edmée Marie Faal and John Sygar
Stage Management by Olivia Viola


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