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'Shallows' is insightful, funny

Robert Scott Smith, Brenda Sue Cowley and Jeanette Puhich in "Swimming in the Shallows."
Robert Scott Smith, Brenda Sue Cowley and Jeanette Puhich in "Swimming in the Shallows."
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

SWIMMING IN THE SHALLOWS, Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, closes Oct. 16 (363-7522 or 355-2787). Running time: one hour, 10 minutes (no intermission).

Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. Some work, some don't.

This "Friends"-ish comedy by a bright new playwright is fast-paced, funny and manages to sneak in some smart commentary on love and, well — relationships — along its merry way.

Deftly directed by David Mong, "Swimming in the Shallows" is about two and one-half couples who are reluctant to jump into the deep end. They're all acquaintances living in the fictional town of Twig, R.I., which is (1) not too far from a beach and (2) big enough to have an aquarium.

Barb and Bob (Joyce Cohen and Don Glover) are married, but they've reached the point where "talking" is not much of an option. Barb has been reading about Buddhist monks and has decided it's time to do some serious downsizing. A monk owns only eight things — does a pair of shoes count as one thing or two? And what if your husband buys you a brand new Buick?

Barb also has an odd circle of friends — Donna and Carla Carla (Brenda Sue Cowley and Jeanette Puhich), a lesbian couple waffling about committing formally to their relationship, and Nick (Robert Scott Smith), who spins from one gay encounter to another.

Then Nick, in the process of sneaking cigarettes to Donna — who has been failing miserably in her attempts to stop smoking — immediately has a crush on one of the creatures in the aquarium where she is a tour guide. It's a handsome Mako Shark, who is employed to swim back and forth in a large tank (watch out for the glass).

(Designer Keven Myhre's setting for "Swimming in the Shallows" has the stage draped with blue backdrops, with a stylistic "tank" in the middle.)

The Shark not only talks but has previously sold Avon products door to door. Played by Christopher Glade, the Shark is as just as much at home on the disco dance floor as he is in the ocean.

The entire ensemble is terrific, shifting rapidly in and out of countless, seamless sequences, spouting funny, insightful (and occasionally sexually graphic) dialogue.

Along the way, they cover a multitude of bases, touching on the fragile processes of falling in and out of love.

The playwright, Adam Bock (who is coming to Salt Lake City for an Oct. 10 reading of another of his plays, "The Thugs"), has a brilliant knack for fresh, funny dialogue and situations.

Sensitivity rating: Graphic dialogue plus lesbian and gay kissing.