Above: Sam Stoker (Jim Vadala) and Lady Rose (Justine Davis)

La Belle is a giant artwork of a play with a hundred moving parts. It premieres at Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th St. December 9 and continues through January 8 with evening shows and matinees.

The story-within-a-story unfolds as a grimy steamship engine room becomes an enchanted playground where Beauty and the Beast comes to life with puppetry, shadow theatre, song, drama, comedy and animated effects nearly every 30 seconds.

Only two human characters appear in the story: Lady Rose and Sam Stoker. Little figures are brought to life as the art of the automata with clockwork mechanics treats the audience. Water wheels turn, giant stacks pump and whistles chirp. Puppets magically appear from holes in the hull to reveal stories of curses and spells brought on by good and evil faeries.

The original novel, La Belle et la Bête, was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. That was rewritten by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756. Beaumont’s version is the primary inspiration for the plays and films of Beauty and the Beast in the 20th century.