John Tartaglia and Dorsel
(© Aaron Epstein)
John Tartaglia and Dorsel
(© Aaron Epstein)
John Tartaglia's ImaginOcean, now premiering at New World Stages, is less a dive into the deep water of adventurous children's theater than a wade into the shallow end of the pool. Nonetheless, Tartaglia's sweet, simple morality tale, using fish puppets, a black light, and some music and lyrics by William Wade, provides a gently pleasing, fast-paced 60 minutes of entertainment for both young children and their parents as well.

The greatest appeal of this production is the vivid colors brought out by the black light technology that illuminates the puppet-sized stage. Heightening the effect, the puppet characters also sail out (at least as far as the first row) into the audience. Happily, director Donna Drake keeps the characters (performed by puppeteers but voiced by Tartagiia and Drake) in constant motion so that they are always sailing off somewhere.

The slight story concerns an undersea treasure hunt undertaken by three very different young fish --Tank, Bubbles and Dorsel -- and what they learn about themselves and life along the way. Afraid of just about everything, Dorsel finds his courage by the end of the story. Actually, if Dorsel sounds a bit like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, that's probably intentional; the whole show has little referential bits and pieces of other children's works.

The modest score of about half-a-dozen songs helps to lift Imaginocean and give it a jaunty air, especially the opening song, "On Our Way." The puppet design by The Puppet Kitchen is cute and the set design by Robert Andrew Kovach is as bright and cheerful as the puppets that inhabit it. It all combines to let audiences young and old leave with a smile.