Swimming in the Shallows
nytheatre.com review by David DelGrosso
June 28, 2005
Adam Bock’s Swimming in the Shallows is a charming if slight new play. The themes of the piece stay in safe waters—friendship, self-exploration, the search for love and security. Barb, in the midst of a midlife crisis, decides that she is too weighed down by her possessions. She has been inspired by Buddhist Monks who only own eight things and decides that she must escape the weight of all the things that she and her husband Bob have accumulated. She explains this new feeling of heaviness to her friend Carla Carla:
BARB: ... my waffle iron my mixer Bob’s electric carving knife the cutting boards all my Tupperware I’ve got tons of Tupperware...
CARLA CARLA: Everybody has Tupperware Barb.
BARB: At Peggy’s Tupperware party I got forty-eight new pieces alone the other night forty eight that’s enough for six monks that’s six Buddhist monks worth of Tupperware at one shot in one night Carla Carla
Meanwhile, Carla Carla and her girlfriend, Donna are deciding whether or not to get married, and the final member of this eclectic group of friends, Nick, is trying to stop falling so quickly for—and chasing away—the men in his life.
Without any unifying conflict, the play alternates amongst this quirky group of characters as they chase the things they want—Barb continues to divest, Carla Carla and Donna have some harmless spats over the wedding details, Donna tries to set Nick up with the right man, Donna tries to quit smoking. Playwright Bock tips his hand rather heavily by dropping one fully absurd plot into the play: After striking out with more and more men, Nick visits the aquarium where Donna works and falls in love at first sight with a Mako shark. He and the shark, personified by an actor with a fin on his back, then go on a date to the beach. The inclusion of this device never really amounts to anything revelatory. Perhaps we are meant to see Nick’s budding relationship with the shark as a sign that he has fallen for the baddest of bad boys (the kind that can, well, eat you alive); or perhaps Nick’s love for this shark—which everyone around him accepts without questioning the reality or biology of the situation—is supposed to be proof that love need not be bound by what is rational. Whatever the reason, the story of Nick and the shark feels obtuse and underexplored.
Indeed, none of the issues that the characters explore in Swimming in the Shallows is ever pushed to the point of challenging or illuminating. There is always the feeling that the fictional Twig, Rhode Island, where the play is set, has a safety net beneath it. Bock is a talented and entertaining writer—these are witty, likeable characters and it is nice to spend time with them, but at the end of the play’s trim 90 minutes you feel as if there has been little risked and little gained.
Second Stage Theatre Uptown has served this play very well by providing a fantastic ensemble and production team. The cast is charismatic and deft in their characterizations. Mary Shultz infuses Barb’s quest to be free of her possessions with an openness and grace. As her husband Bob, Murphy Guyer takes the play's most underwritten and least flashy character and makes your heart go out to him. As a native New Englander, I have to give credit to Susan Pourfar for not only giving Carla Carla a strong presence, but also a flawless just-outside-of-Providence, Rhode Island accent.
Despite the scaled-down production budget of the Uptown series, scenic designer David Korins creates a great effect for the shark’s aquarium that truly makes it seem as if we are watching him swim sideways through the air. This trick of mirrors and a skateboard, in combination with Paul Whitaker’s lighting and Bart Fasbender’s sound design, is a memorable piece of stage magic.
In all, Swimming in the Shallows is an enjoyable light treat of a play, the theatregoers' equivalent of a good beach read.