By Joe Jennison
Amana - I have my 30th high school reunion coming up this summer.
And quite by chance, I sat next to one of my very dear high school friends last Friday at The Old Creamery Theatre Company’s production of The Dixie Swim Club. Arriving at the theater late, I sat right down and didn’t look up until intermission. When I finally looked up after a wonderful and funny Act One…
The years fell away and we were giggling and laughing and reminiscing together as only old, old friends could do. We both realized during this performance how very important these relationships are, and we seemed to make that observation right along with the five characters that make up The Dixie Swim Club’s fictional Pemberton College champion swim team.
Written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, The Dixie Swim Club traces five members of a former champion female swim team as they age from 44 to 77 over the course of four very quick scenes. At play’s open, the ladies are well past their college prime and have been meeting regularly at the same rented beach cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for 22 years.
Their annual getaway has only three rules: No business, no men and no children. That leaves plenty of time for martinis, skinny dipping, catching up and plenty of heart-to-hearts.
Sheree (Krista Neumann) is the organized team captain who regularly sets up the annual weekend getaway. Lexie (Gwendolyn Schwinke) is a lovable but self-centered woman who works hard to stay young and thin and perpetually remarried. Jeri Neal (Kristy Hartsgrove) is a naïve and cloistered nun, who starts the play with a very funny and poignant reveal. Vernadette (Marquetta Senters) is a wise-cracking, upfront wife and mother, who is described early on as someone who has had a “black cloud following her since the day she was born.” And Dinah (Licia Watson) is the successful hard-working lawyer, an over-achiever who still manages to never disappoint her four dearest friends.
When these five characters come together for their annual reunion at their leased beach house, the martinis and the Southern one-liners begin to flow, and the Old Creamery audiences are the ultimate winners. Four scenes and some four decades of joy and drama later, all of us are reminded of how important those long-standing relationships have become in their life and ours.
Senters’ Vernadette is a beautiful piece of stage work, goofy and touching, as she goes from funny to sad, and from healthy to ill. A monologue in Act Two, when she is about 54, is well delivered as she confronts her health-conscious friend about the importance of Southern fried chicken and biscuits: “As long as there is music in Memphis, peanuts in Georgia, there will be Chicken and biscuits on my table!”
Schwinke’s Lexie takes over nearly every scene with her “it’s all about me” attitude (insert Southern accent here): “Just because I am vain and frivolous, does not mean I am shallow.” And Neumann’s Sheree very confidently plays that person that every group needs to stay together, an organized leader, who quietly insists on structure and schedules. As Jeri Neal, Hartsgrove has created a gentle soul, a nun in transition, who gets to make the biggest changes and growth throughout the evening. Watson’s Dinah is a career woman and a heavy drinker, a woman who sensitively watches over the rest as she mixes drinks and rattles off funny one-liners. “I got a martini shaker and I’m not afraid to use it,” she says in Act One.
Director Sean McCall has created a wonderful, fast-paced ensemble piece. He seems very adept at keeping the action and one-liners moving quickly. The beach house set designed by Tom Milligan is large and open and backed by a large scrim that seems to gently blow in the fictional breeze and allows for lightning and storms and bright summer North Carolina days. On this set, it is easy to imagine the beach just beyond the footlights, and, it seems very possible that, as the characters drawl from the front stage, the “afternoon sun is sparkling off the Atlantic ocean.”
Costumes are attributed to Deborah Kennedy, and the colors and styles reflect the eras and tastes of the various characters: muted oranges and turquoises and peaches – and yes, one clown suit, add to the soft feel of this comfortable beach house retreat.
I would be so curious to be backstage and watch as the hair and makeup and wigs are so quickly pulled together. Hair colors and styles and cosmetic surgeries seem to effortlessly change from scene to scene, as the women go from 44 to 49 to 54 to 77. Unfortunately, a hair or makeup credit is not listed in the program, but whoever is responsible can quietly smile as they read this. Good job.
I imagine that others with dear old friends will experience the same sense of comfort that I did from this story that follows these five diverse women through several life changes. The Dixie Swim Club is a wonderful reminder that no one is alone who has even one old friend who has known them since the days of their youth.
Mary and I can’t wait for our summer reunion.
Joe Jennison is a freelance writer and playwright living in Mount Vernon. Comments should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org