Adam Bock's Swimming in the Shallows should have a theme song -- a pop number with a simple melody and catchy lyrics you can't get out of your head -- because his play is reminiscent of a smarter, funnier, more interesting version of Friends.
Odeum Theatre Company opened its version of the production last weekend at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Directed by Cassie Hollis, the play is a simple, yet absurd, comedy that utilizes an ensemble of six fine actors to portray three couples' misaligned attempts at love and happiness.
Barb (Susan Dergoul) is a middle-aged housewife who, not too long after her son leaves the nest for college, learns about Buddhist monks who live with only eight possessions and begins to question her own materialistic tendencies. Meanwhile, her husband, Bob (William Carpenter), is buying new things as quickly as she can throw the old ones out, causing her to question her marriage.
Barb's friend Carla Carla (Ione Michelle Blocker) is contemplating whether or not to marry her lesbian lover, Donna (Brittainy Boyer). Donna, the one to propose marriage, is frantically and half-heartedly trying to quit smoking, the one thing she believes she can do to convince Carla Carla to say yes.
Donna's friend Nick (David Lawrence) is a happy-go-lucky gay man who's got a string of one-night stands under his belt but who is convinced that he's ready for something more serious, and he's looking for love in a rather unconventional place -- the shark tank of the local aquarium where Donna works, for instance. But, believe it or not, the too-cool-for-school shark (John Cruncleton III) actually seems to like Nick back.
The play is funny from the get-go. Dergoul and Blocker set the tone with the first scene, their quips well paced. They're talking at and around, and sometimes with, one another, which conjures up the first comparisons to a certain favorite sitcom.
What makes the play so funny is not the story and not the writing (though they're certainly not too shabby), it's Odeum's actors, who believe so much in the story and the script that its dialogue rolls off their tongues as if it's they're the most natural words they've ever spoken. It's almost enough to make one think, "I can relate to these people," until one remembers that one of these people has just given or thrown away half of everything she owns and another thinks he's in love with a shark.
The actors make the play fun and easy to watch. The evolution of Donna and Nick's circumstances, played out during daily lunchtime meetings, is so hilarious, thanks to Boyer and Lawrence, that Bock could have written a play about just that.
And yet that's not meant to undermine this ensemble cast. They can make two people sitting on the floor talking seem like the funniest thing in the world, and they way they handle the more absurd scenes is even better. The near love scene between Cruncleton and Lawrence is enough to get one a little excited, albeit a little confused.
Credit for that must also be given to Hollis, who makes her directorial debut with this play. It would be interesting to see how she handles weightier material.
But, for now, Swimming in the Shallows is a welcome respite from a season of weightier material from Odeum. The company has proven it has the acting chops to perform anything it wants -- including strange comedy -- and do it well.
Swimming in the Shallows continues May 5-8, with performances beginning at 8pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the Tulsa PAC's Charles E. Norman Theatre, 110 E. Second St. Sunday's performance starts at 2pm.
Tickets are $20 and available at www.tulsapac.com.
Adapted for the Stage
This weekend, American Theatre Company, in partnership with the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice and Conner &
Winters, Attorney and Counselors of Law, presents Romulus Linney's play A Lesson Before Dying, based on Ernest J. Gaines' novel of the same name.
In it, Jefferson, an innocent young man, is condemned to death in backwoods Louisiana in 1948. At the trial, his lawyer, trying to save his life, calls him no more a human being than a hog. In prison, Jefferson acts like one, insisting that he will be dragged like a hog to the electric chair.
His godmother asks a schoolteacher to teach him to die like a man, and she asks a minister to save his soul. The teacher, Grant Wiggins, struggling to quit his poor parish school and leave the South, faces both Jefferson and himself as execution day arrives.
Robert Walters directs Vanessa Adams-Harris, Keith Daniels, Andy Axewell, C.J, Harris, Sharae Johnson, B.J. Johnson and Chris Williams. The play runs May 6-14 at the Tulsa PAC's John H. Williams Theatre. Evening performances begin at 8pm and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets are $24-$30 at the PAC's website.
Shall We Play a Game?
Also playing May 6-14, Theatre Tulsa presents D.L. Coburn's The Gin Game. It tells the story of Weller Martin, who is playing solitaire on the porch of a seedy nursing home. He and Fonsia Dorsey, a prim, self righteous lady, discover they both dislike the home and enjoy gin rummy, so they begin to play and to reveal intimate details of their lives.
Fonsia wins every time, and their secrets become weapons used against one another. Weller longs for a victory to counter a lifetime of defeats but it doesn't happen. He leaves the stage a broken man, and Fonsia realizes her self-righteous rigidity has led to a bitter, lonely old age.
Directed by Martha Cherbini, The Gin Game was originally presented by Broken Arrow Community Playhouse in 2009. It took first place in the 2010 Oklahoma Community Theatre Alliance festival. The play travels to Lewiston, Texas, for the regional competition, and a chance to advance to the national competition in New York, this summer.
The show begins at 7:30pm this weekend, with the exception of Sunday's matinee at 2pm, in the Tulsa PAC's Liddy Doenges Theatre. Tickets are $15 and available at the PAC's website.
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