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Swimming in the Shallows

Adam Bock's delightfully offbeat romantic comedy receives an outstanding New York premiere production.

Logan Marshall-Green and Michael Arden
in Swimming in the Shallows
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Adam Bock's delightfully offbeat romantic comedy Swimming in the Shallows features lesbian wedding planning, a man in love with a shark, and a woman who wants to own only eight things. The play immerses the audience in a queer world wherein bizarre situations can begin to seem completely normal, but despite its surreal elements, it is grounded in true-to-life anxieties, longings, and expressions of love. Directed by Trip Cullman and showcasing a pitch-perfect ensemble cast, Shallows is receiving a truly outstanding New York premiere production as part of Second Stage Theatre's "Uptown" series, which is dedicated to developing the skills of emerging playwrights and other early-career artists.

The play revolves around a group of close-knit friends who are all dealing with emotional changes in their lives. We first meet Barb (Mary Shultz), a middle-aged heterosexual woman whose growing dissatisfaction with her life and marriage has led her to try to get rid of unnecessary items. Inspired by what she's read about Buddhist monks who each own only eight things, she seeks to emulate their example, though this proves difficult to do. Lamenting the amount of Tupperware that she recently bought at a party, she states, "I got 48 new pieces...that's six Buddhist monks worth of Tupperware at one shot."

Barb is best friends with co-worker Carla Carla (Susan Pourfar), whose girlfriend Donna (Rosemarie DeWitt) wants the two of them to get married. Carla Carla is unsure about this; in an effort to convince her, Donna attempts to give up smoking, certain that this is the character flaw that's preventing Carla Carla from saying yes. As Donna goes through various attempts to quit, she meets up with longtime buddy Nick (Michael Arden) for coffee. Nick is a young gay male with commitment issues and a tendency to sleep with men on the first date. In a supremely bizarre and absolutely hilarious twist, he falls in love with a Mako shark (played by Logan Marshall-Green) at the local aquarium. (Within the world of the play, this makes perfect sense.)

Bock's dialogue is fresh and original. His characters are well-defined, and they are brought to life by a superb ensemble in this production. Shultz is particularly memorable; her facial expressions and comic timing provoke gales of laughter, yet her interactions with her husband Bob (Murphy Guyer) show the depths of Barb's loneliness and the gulf of misunderstanding that separates the two.

Marshall-Green is the sexiest shark you're ever likely to see, so it's easy to understand why Nick falls in love with him. Clad in a speedo and shark fin, we first see him swimming in an aquarium tank ingeniously designed by David Korins with well-placed mirrors to make it look as if the shark is actually moving through water. Marshall-Green's piercing eyes convey a hunger and curiosity that is wholly appropriate for his character. When the shark gets to step out of the tank, the sexual chemistry between him and Arden's Nick creates plenty of steam.

The frustration and anxiety that color the love between Carla Carla and Donna will seem familiar to anyone who has been in a relationship, even if aspects of the discord are exaggerated for comic effect. Both DeWitt and Pourfar throw themselves into their roles, yet they never resort to caricature. A dream sequence in which the pair are decked out in gorgeous bridal gowns (courtesy of costume designer Jenny Mannis) is at once funny and pitiful.

Cullman establishes a brisk pace for the intermissionless show and finds inventive ways to stage some of the odder sections of Bock's script. The three dream sequences are marvelously handled and go beyond the author's descriptions of the action. A crack design team -- the aforementioned Korins and Mannis plus lighting designer Paul Whitaker and sound designer Bart Fasbender -- also helps to make Swimming in the Shallows a fabulous summer treat.


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