SWIMMING IN THE SHALLOWS by Adam Bock, directed by Daryl Cloran, with Dylan Trowbridge, Holly Lewis, Caroline Gillis, Richard Greenblatt, Glynis Ranney and Clinton Walker. Presented by Theatrefront in association with Buddies in Bad Times at Buddies (12 Alexander). Previews tonight (January 6), opens Friday (January 7) and runs to January 26, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$27, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
Looking for love is like taking a dip in shark-infested waters. It's dangerous, but maybe that's part of the thrill.
And doing it successfully - without being eaten alive - is, for many people, a real accomplishment.
That central metaphor inspires playwright Adam Bock's Swimming In The Shallows, the latest production by the enterprising company Theatrefront.
The characters include Barb and Bob, an unhappily married straight couple; Carla Carla and Donna, a lesbian couple contemplating a commitment ceremony; and Nick, a gay man who gets into bed so quickly with his dates that he doesn't consider a long-term relationship.
Oh, and then there's the aquarium-swimming mako shark that Nick falls for.
"The play's about accepting our limitations but also accepting the love that's offered us," says Glynis Ranney, who plays Carla Carla.
"Yes, but it presents the idea in a goofy voice," smiles Holly Lewis, who plays her partner, Donna. "That's what is so appealing about these characters. They're awkward and make mistakes, and while their efforts are incredibly funny, they're also touching because they're so real."
The two actors had never worked together - Ranney's spent the past several years at the Shaw Festival, Lewis has worked here in town with Soulpepper and is part of the Theatrefront Ensemble - but they clicked immediately, which should give truthfulness to their scenes together.
"That trust and comfort make our job easier," admits Ranney, who's equally at home delivering heartfelt performances in musicals and straight plays. "With Holly and me it happened with the first hello."
That's not to say Donna and Carla Carla are agreed on getting married. It's the latter's idea, but she waffles about acting on it, complaining about her partner's problems, like the fact that Donna smokes.
Carla Carla is strong-minded and honest, as determined as a tank, offers Ranney, but the quick-tempered character also has a short fuse.
"Carla Carla is far from simple," adds the performer. "One thing that's clear from the start, though, is that opposites do attract. Carla Carla is the more conservative figure, drawn to the liberal-minded Donna."
"I see Donna being from a different generation, a younger one that embraces different sexualities and sexual preferences; there's no thought of being in the closet," continues Lewis, whose stage work includes Shakespeare, new plays and CBC's The Newsroom.
"Carla Carla's gone through it all in the 90s, coming out and feeling awkward and challenged. Donna hasn't had to deal with that baggage, and strangely, that's one of the things that makes Carla Carla attractive to her.
"They love each other, but Donna and Carla Carla are on different pages of the same book."
"Yes," nods Ranney, "the qualities that attract them also drive them crazy. They try so hard to make it work but keep missing the boat."
While the multi-sidedness of their relationship is something that everyone can relate to, the craziness of other aspects of the script also pays off.
The determined Barb, having read in Reader's Digest that Buddhist monks have only eight possessions, is set on simplifying her life in a similar fashion. The shark, played by actor Dylan Trowbridge, is a creature both comic and scary who's shyly wooed by Nick.
"We're seeing the underlying theme that fear makes you gather different sorts of things to you," says Lewis.
"The emotional clutter we bring into our lives is as blocking as the physical clutter," adds Ranney. "This isn't a play about living happily ever after, but rather about accepting our limitations.
"And ironically, when the characters accept their own clutter, the less of it there really is to deal with."