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Left in ink

It is impossible to truly know the torment of those who choose to take their own lives. We're not talking here about romantic self-destruction (Romeo and Juliet) but the kind driven by severe mental illness, depression, or other dark factors. So it is a bold choice for director Caitlin Lewins and company to assemble Left in Ink, a devised semi-documentary attempt to capture the tragedy that suicide enforces on the survivors left behind. Based on interviews and online posts, the play presents brief flashes of various lives that have been touched, and forever changed, by the suicide of a loved one. And the five-person on-stage cast (Megan Brautigan, Jeanne Madison, Brett Radke, Amy Schwabauer and Jerry Tucker) works valiantly to bring these people to life. Unfortunately, the script as fashioned by Lewins and the ensemble is a mish-mash of banal declarations of grief and mealy-mouthed platitudes. This happens not because the declarations are untrue, but because the play makes the cardinal sin of not enabling the audience to experience who the suicide victims really were — or who the survivors are. Instead of creating flesh and blood characters in the moment, we are force-fed memory tidbits and fragmented character descriptions, such as, "He once said, 'I will never be happy again in my life!'" If a character we had grown to know uttered that sentence, it would be devastating. But having it thrust at us without context is simply careless theatrical manipulation. Without encountering real people to whom we can relate in more than one dimension, we're left with a flashing, strobe light collection of well-meaning, deeply felt bullet points.

Through May 31 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit, 216-631-2727, cptonline.org.

Bathroom humor

Let's face it, there's something pretty funny about bathrooms and what goes on in there. It's the only socially approved place where our bodies can fully relax and expel waste products that we no longer need. Speaking of waste products we no longer need, let's talk about Bathroom Humor, now at the Blank Canvas Theatre. Working on the pee-pee, poo-poo level of a 4-year-old who finds any bodily function hilarious, this play is an exercise in bathroom tedium, kind of like grunting over a particularly obstinate bowel movement. See, there's a bathroom in this casa, and all the above characters keep showing up in there to do their business, have sex and rifle through the host's medicine cabinet. It's a door-slamming farce with just one door, so a shower curtain and a window are used for various other entrances and exits. Are there laughs? Absolutely. We are human beings and that 4-year-old still lives within us, giggling at fart jokes and gasping when a person drops their underwear and sits on a toilet (a key part of the set) in front of us. Director Patrick Ciamacco is one of the most gifted theater honchos in the area, and up to now his choices for plays have been unconventional and interesting. Hey, everyone's entitled to crap out now and then. And this one, despite the laughs it generates, is definitely an aimless turd floating in the otherwise glittering BCT pool.

Through May 24 at Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studio, West 78th St., 440-941-0458,

blankcanvastheatre.com.

swimming in the shallows

Oh no! Senator Rick Santorum's twisted fever dream of the ultimate effects of gay sex have come true! But it's worse. Santorum only imagined same sex coupling leading to "man-on-dog" relationships. But in Swimming in the Shallows, now at convergence-continuum, it is man-on-shark sex that is at issue.

And as it turns out, that cross-species dynamic is the most interesting part of a production that disappoints at almost every level. It's not that playwright Adam Bock can't write, it's that he relies on too many gimmicks and familiar comedy crutches. Barb and Bob are a middle-aged couple dealing with Barb's midlife crisis. Meanwhile their lesbian friends Carla Carla and Donna are thinking about a commitment ceremony, but Donna's chain smoking is an obstacle (ho hum). The fifth wheel on this clown car is Nick, a stereotype gay man who impulsively has sex on the first date. The only bright spot is when amorous Nick falls for a mako shark at the aquarium where Donna works. The scenes where shark and man interact, both pulsing with deep desires, are both amusing and startling. Unfortunately, nothing else comes close to those moments, as director Lisa L. Wiley doesn't find a way to help her cast develop interesting characters. Filled with a torrent of random, not terribly funny small talk and wink-wink title slides meant to prop up the comedy, Shallows feels out of its depth from start to finish.

Through May 24, produced by convergence continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074, convergencecontinuum.org.

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