It's sweet, funny and charming. It is also beautifully staged and artfully performed. That's "Swimming in the Shallows" by Adam Bock, now &

too briefly &

playing at SOU's Center Square theater through May 27.

To describe "Swimming in the Shallows" as a comedy about love and romance really doesn't do the play justice. It is a quirky look at five close friends in Rhode Island and how they support one another through all the ups and downs of looking for love in all the right and wrong places.

Barb (Joanna Tyler) and Bob (Scott Marden) are a long-married heterosexual couple being pulled apart by the suburban lifestyle. She wants to pare down her possessions to a Buddhist-monk's eight items. He thinks he can smooth everything over by buying her a new Buick.

Down-to-earth Carla Carla (Daria Lisandrelli) and ditzy Donna (Jackie Williams) are lesbian, have been together for eight years and are now trying to decide whether to formalize things with a commitment ceremony. But Carla Carla wants Donna to quit smoking first and it's a habit she just can't kick. Is Donna's lying and sneaking cigarettes a portent of what's to come?

— — Nick Ferrucci and Michael Fallon.

Nick (Nick Ferrucci) is a 30-something single, pining for the right guy and living happily ever and after. A series of one-night stands has bruised and disillusioned him but that doesn't mean he's stopped looking.

And then there is The Shark (Mike Fallon). Really. A slinky, sexy, bad-boy mako shark swimming to and fro in the aquarium where Donna works. Back and forth, back and forth""careful not to bump the glass. It's a lonely life, so when The Shark catches sight of sweet, lovesick Nick, well, its love at first sight.

(We all know those kinds of relationships. He or she is so cute, so sexy, so needy, but there are warning signs all over the place. Watch out, Nick.)

A large part of the charm of "Swimming in the Shallows" derives from the flat New England accents of the characters, especially in a scene where Barb and Bob argue about why she wants to get her own apartment and away from all the "stuff" that they continually accumulate. They each start their sentences with the other character's name and the humor comes solely from how the repetition of the flat "a" make the two names sound exactly the same.

That flat "a" and the obviously working-class origins of the characters give the play a decided television sit-com feel"""Seinfeld," "Friends," etc.""and Bock's cutesy, snappy but largely vapid dialogue exchanges do everything to reinforce that.

Director Dale Luciano (on the SOU faculty) does a fine job of staging, giving movement to the often static-written scenes. His actors are uniformly strong, staying in dialect and giving each character its own history and future. Luciano has even created a credible illusion of a shark swimming in a tank.

The play is done on an empty stage with movable panels and projections (by Matthew Stiles) to set place and time. The costumes are equally subtle. (Except for The Shark""you've got to check out The Shark.) Scenic and costume design are by Roger Wykes (it's his thesis project). Lighting design is by Jason Berg Monahan. Sound design is by Tim Brown.

It is a credit to SOU's Theatre Department that this bit of fluff comes off as much deeper and funnier than it really is.

— —

"Swimming in the Shallows" was first produced in the Bay Area and went on to Off-off-Broadway in New York. It won numerous awards and received glowing reviews""a bit surprising because while the play is cute, it is as shallow as its title implies. But do go to see it because once again SOU has provided an enjoyable and thoroughly professional evening of theater.