Theater: Mako sharks, Buddhism and accents: The Division of Theater opens ‘Swimming in the Shallows’

By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl
Swimming in the Shallows by Adam Bock, directed by David Haugen
8 p.m. Oct. 30-Nov. 2, Nov. 6-9
Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater, Kantner Hall

The cast of 'Swimming in the Shallows' poses for an imaginary wedding photo (Laura Winegar | For The Post)

The cast of ‘Swimming in the Shallows’ poses for an imaginary wedding photo (Laura Winegar | For The Post)

The Division of Theater has a thing for shows featuring water-related storylines this semester. The first mainstage production, Metamorphoses, was set in a pool, and one of the principal characters in the latest play is a shark.

Swimming in the Shallows follows three relationships at their pivotal points: A heterosexual older couple may have grown too far apart, a lesbian couple wonders whether or not they should take the next step and marry, and the last couple has just fallen in love and is interspecies.

I’m sure that last line through you, but yes, there is a relationship between two different species — a man and a shark.

If that seems hard to buy, trust me, it kind of is. I understand it’s “the theater” and you sometimes need to check reality at the door, but the initial interactions in this relationship come off as far too unrealistic and made me take a step back from the show.

The shark, played by Alex Nicosia, and Nick, played by Patrick Wagstaff, embrace (Laura Winegar | For The Post)

The shark, played by Alex Nicosia, and Nick, played by Patrick Wagstaff, embrace for the first time (Laura Winegar | For The Post)

Nick is often too promiscuous so he tries to take it slow once he falls in love. Nick falls for the shark after seeing it in the aquarium. I understand this is surrealism, but it took some getting used to the fact that this relationship was actually happening and no other character found it strange that their friend was in love with a mako shark.

I will say, though, that I think I enjoyed Nick’s, played by Patrick Wagstaff, performance the most. From the moment he stepped on stage to the realistic interactions he has with the other characters to even the rollercoaster of emotions he experiences as he falls in love, Nick is clearly the most well-developed character.

The lesbian couple, Carla Carla and Donna, struggle with the decision about whether or not they should marry. One thing the show’s director, David Haugen, pointed out to me was that Shallows doesn’t emphasize the fact that two of the couples are same-sex. Their relationships are treated just the same as a typical relationship. I definitely enjoyed that.

Carla Carla and Donna’s storyline mostly dealt with the issues they faced in trying to get to the altar. Carla Carla doesn’t like that Donna smokes. Donna wants a smaller wedding while Carla Carla wants something bigger where people can dance at the end. There’s no dialogue discussing the fact that these are two women. Their homosexuality is not the defining characteristic of their relationship, and that’s refreshing. This storyline would have gotten very old, very fast had it focused on their sexuality and not the issues people actually face when deciding on whether or not to marry.

The heterosexual couple, Barb and Bob, butt heads as Barb leans toward Buddhism and increasingly wants a more simplistic life — like only owning eight items — while Bob continually buys new things.

In the beginning, the monologues about this relationship were well written and somewhat thought provoking  — especially about “feeling heavy” from all the things you own — yet they had much less of an effect because they were monologues.

We do not see Bob actually come on stage for quite some time, and even then, he’s not on stage for more than two or three scenes. Barb’s struggle to find happiness is interesting, but I felt no emotional connection to her situation until she and Bob argued onstage and came to a conclusion of sorts. That dialogue stirred more emotions than any of her monologues, which on their own eventually became somewhat whiny.

Probably one of the worst things going for the show is the god-awful accents used — a thick northeastern accent. There is no specific setting mentioned. There is no need to make these actors sound like this. It’s simply distracting and, quite frankly, annoying. Worst of all, there was no way you could tell the difference when someone said, “Barb” versus “Bob.” The “ar” and “o” both became “aaahhhh,” and it was a nightmare.

Nick [Patrick Wagstaff], Carla Carla [Jessica Savitz] and Donna [Michelle Fink] cower from Barb [Lisa Bol] (Laura Winegar | For The Post)

Nick [Patrick Wagstaff], Carla Carla [Jessica Savitz] and Donna [Michelle Fink] cower from Barb [Lisa Bol] (Laura Winegar | For The Post)

Swimming in the Shallows is a comedy and it will actually make you laugh. It won’t win a Pulitzer or Tony for its book, but you will laugh at several moments in the show. Some of those moments may occur because of how absurd the scene is or simply because of the dialogue, but you will genuinely laugh several times throughout the night.

As Haugen told me, the scenes in this play are much shorter in comparison to that of a standard play. Thus, I think there was quite a deficiency in character arcs and background as well as in accessibility to the audience. Anyone who is in a relationship can relate to the struggles each different type of relationship in the play faced, but on an individual level, the characters themselves still need some work and development.

Aside from the play, there are some scenery aspects to take note of when seeing the show. The show’s stage has been transformed into a marina deck that comes out into the middle of the audience. As always, the set is beautiful and I’m in awe of how spectacular the Division of Theater shows always have such amazing sets.

The show is set against a projection screen that frequently shows clips of Alex Nicosia, who plays the shark, swimming in his supposed tank. The screen is also used to title the scene changes.

Another multimedia element used in the show is live music. Garrett Hood, a production design student, composed music to perform throughout the play. The show begins with a go-go-esque dance sequence in which the live music is used very well, but often times, the music was used as a transitional element between scenes and seemed a bit awkward.

Overall, I have to say I didn’t enjoy the play entirely yet I didn’t detest it. There were several moments in which I found myself a bit bored, and then there was the opposite moments when I was cracking up. I enjoy the themes the play discussed, but while the overall story is interesting and brings up good ideas, the play can often fail while in the moment.


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