Five Southern women, whose friendships began many years ago on their college swim team, set aside a long weekend every August to recharge those relationships. Free from husbands, kids and jobs, they meet at the same beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks to catch up, laugh and meddle in each other’s lives. THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB focuses on four of those weekends and spans a period of thirty-three years. As their lives unfold and the years pass, these women increasingly rely on one another, through advice and raucous repartee, to get through the challenges (men, sex, marriage, parenting, divorce, aging) that life flings at them. And when fate throws a wrench into one of their lives in the second act, these friends, proving the enduring power of “teamwork,” rally ’round their own with the strength and love that takes this comedy in a poignant and surprising direction. (Reprinted from Dramatist Play Service.)
Sheree (Cathy Ireland), the group’s still peppy, totally organized former team captain, insists on sharing her healthy lifestyle, sprouts and all. Lexie (Carol Van Zoren), enjoys her friends, plastic surgery and husbands (hers and yours). Dinah (Cindy Starcher), is a wisecracking, highly successful attorney hoping for that “big win” in her personal life. The self-deprecating and accident prone Vernadette (Marsha L. Amato-Greenspan), takes life with a grain of salt, a bit of humor and biscuits. Jeri Neal (Andres Kalan), the former nun now late term mother-to-be, is everyone’s “the glass is always more than half full” best friend.
The script of THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB provides a peek into the very special relationship of these five charming women, each with her own needs, wants and dreams. Director, Ruth K. Brown, assembled a talented group of women up to the challenge of portraying the characters with realism. The ensemble maintained great form throughout the show, never once falling into the caricature abyss. I was happy to discover that no one actor overpowered or stood out above the rest. Ensemble work is difficult to navigate. The director and actors of THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB found the perfect strokes.
THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB is a cozy bit of theater. As presented by The Barnstormers, it allowed me and my companion to sit back, relax and enjoy a good laugh. And, since this review doesn’t require a long-winded dissertation, discussion on symbolism or any other mumbo-jumbo that we normally put in reviews, I wanted to give the actors and director an opportunity to talk about the show and what it meant to each of them. I posed two questions to the director and the actors. Here are some of their responses.
Question: What drew you to this play?
RUTH K. BROWN: I first became aware of this play when my sister, Julie, sent me the program and one of the actor scripts after she had seen it at a small theatre in Detroit. She sent me a note saying “you can probably do something with this.” The wordplay appealed to me the most as I had three sisters in Michigan ,and the reunion-type of camaraderie and caring struck close to home. Also I realized that it would be essential to keep these women from being cartoon characters but to still allow them the ability to “portray” their characters. I worked with them to make each of their characters believable and easy to like while still maintaining that edge that kept each of them their own personality. The cancer my sister, Julie, had been valiantly fighting for years worsened throughout 2013. I arranged with Barnstormers to direct it and the available slot was in May. I hoped the timing would allow for her to be able to see the production, but fate saw things differently and she died last November. I think she would have laughed and laughed and recognized us inside the smart remarks and playful attitudes of these women. I was extremely lucky as a director to be able to assemble such an experienced and talented cast. Working with women has always been easy for me insofar as we all seem to speak the same kind of female and professional “shorthand”. In short, I could say “Ladies, you have known these women almost all your lives. I want to see a high level of physical comfort with each other and a familiarity with the cottage you have been visiting every year”. Then I could say to a specific actor “that piece of business did not work for me … can you show me something else, please”. Both of those comments would result in subtleties and interpretations that I could then just accept, modify or reject to fulfill my vision for this production.
CAROL VAN ZOREN: To be honest, initially it was more the opportunity to work with Ruth and the other actresses than the script itself. And we have built a “team” much like the characters. As we got more into it, I really like that the characters are only superficially stereotypes – each has flaws, hurts and longings that are revealed over the course of the play.
CINDY STARCHER: First, any show that is about women and their friendships gets my attention. Especially lifelong friendships. There is such depth to the friendships of women. After I read it, I liked that these women knew each other so well, flaws and all, had unconditional love for each other, and could fight like siblings one moment, and be fiercely supportive the next. And that they could go a year without seeing each other, but could pick up right where they left off like no time had passed – the sign of true friendship.
CATHY IRELAND: I wanted to work with a small cast which originally attracted me when Ruth brought the play to my attention. I enjoyed all the characters in the play and liked watching them come to life under the eyes and wisdom of Ruth. The conversations we had as a group started off the thinking and then working together to figure each character out and what mannerisms were best to keep her real and believable never got old. It was grand working with Ruth again.
Question: How closely did you identify with your character?
ANDREA KALAN: There are some similarities. Like Jeri Neal, I am very young at heart and a bit naive. I would’ve been just as upset as she was to not have been invited to Sheree’s birthday party! lol
CAROL VAN ZOREN: I hope I’m not that vain! But I love how Lexie’s fear of inadequacy drives her toward more men and more surgeries, which comes to a head in her near-panic that Dinah and Sheree might be laughing at her. I also love when she vulnerably asks for Dinah’s help (so different from demanding “support” over her divorces!) and receiving it, can pay it forward with Vernadette.
MARSHA L. AMATO-GREENSPAN: I knew when I auditioned I would relate to Vernadette. I grew up in small town outside of Charlottesville VA, swam for many years on the swim team and now my house has now been torn down and Main St rerouted through it. And yes, there were biscuits on my table on Sundays and Christmas morning after opening presents. Just as the friendships of the characters, I love my cast mates and will miss them.
THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB
Written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope an Jamie Wooten
Directed by Ruth K. Brown
May 30 through June 14, 2014
402 Tome Street
Ridley Park, PA 19078